CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDAIn the predawn hours at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the silvery glow of the half-moon was briefly drowned out by an artificial sun.
At 1:47 a.m. ET on November 16, the most powerful rocket ever launched tore through the thick air of the Florida night. The 30-story flying machine, known as the Space Launch System (SLS), leapt skyward atop a blindingly bright exhaust flame that illuminated the crowds of spectators.
After the lightning came the thunder. Shockwaves from the rocket’s 8.8 million pounds of thrust—equivalent to 31 jumbo jets—rattled onlookers’ chests more than three miles away. Less than eight minutes after liftoff, the crackling rocket, accelerating to more than 17,000 miles an hour, was just a pinprick in the distance.