The spectacular launch of Artemis I

Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the Orion …

Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the Orion capsule attached, launches at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on November 16, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. AFP/Kevin Dietsch

"This was out of this world, not just to see the launch but to feel the thunder and roar from the rocket. It will take me a long time to process that," says Daniel Leeb, the director of Iceland Space Agency. He was present when the NASA SLS rocket Artemis I was launched from the Kennedy Space Center of NASA in Cape Canaveral in Florida on November 16th. The rocket was carrying the unmanned Orion spacecraft and a European service unit. The rocket will go to the moon and around it where a lot of equipment will be tested before the spacecraft returns to earth. Later people will travel with such a spacecraft to the moon and this launch was a part of the preparation to travelling to the moon and beyond. The ultimate goal at this time is space travel for people to Mars.

Daniel Leeb and NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson, who also …

Daniel Leeb and NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson, who also flew as an astronaut. Photo/Matthew Devlen

Watched the launch with the astronauts

Daniel observed the launch from a viewing area where most of the leading officials of NASA and partners of the Artemis program were present for the launch. The viewing area was approximately three kilometers from the launching pad. A crowd of people were in other areas nearby  observing the launch.

"It was an unbelievable experience to be standing there with the NASA astronauts. In the group were amongst others the astronaut, Dr. Jessica Watkins, who had just come from the International Space Station and there were also astronauts from the European Space Agency (ESA). Daniel says it was  an honour to be there with this international group of people who have worked to make this happen, but the Artemis program is the collaborative project of NASA, European collaborators and others.

Daniel and NASA astronaut and geologist Jessica Watkins who just …

Daniel and NASA astronaut and geologist Jessica Watkins who just retuned from the ISS last month. Photo/Matthew Devlen

New era of space exploration

Daniel says that the Artemis project is important for Iceland, because it was in Iceland where the first people who went to the moon trained for their mission. "It is amazing to be here in person as a representative of our country. It truly is an honour."

He adds that there are a lot of opportunities involved in this potential cooperation with Iceland. He says that the launch of Artemis I marks a new era of space exploration.

Inspiration for generations to come

"We are reconnecting with the science and the technology that was built over 50 years ago. Now we are going back to the moon to stay there and then go beyond to Mars. This is important, not only for space exploration, but also for innovation and serves as an inspiration for the coming generations all over the world. When we reach for the stars we also learn how to better protect the earth we are standing on. This is just the beginning," says Daniel.

The ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet with Daniel.

The ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet with Daniel. Photo/Matthew Devlen

He says that the Artemis-astronauts were training here in Iceland last summer and the summer before that. " Iceland has already played an important part in the legacy of Moon Exploration and we will aspire to be the best collaborators In the future."

Iceland is a part of this exciting journey

When we spoke to Daniel he had just come from a meeting of an international group working on travels to Mars. "Iceland is now a valid collaborator and participates in the talks about the technology used in the exploration of the surface of Mars. The unique landscape in many areas in Iceland are widely known as a prime areas for training for space travel. It also provides the opportunity of testing new technology and various research. This is an Important opportunity for the Universities of Iceland to collaborate with one another on innovative Research and Technology Development for space exploration that can benefit us most here on Earth for both sustainability and helping to fight climate change. "

Over the moon

"I am over the moon to think that my daughters here in Iceland could have a future in this area.They will see female astronauts walking on the moon and it will be an inspiration for them to do new things and be a part of making Iceland more progressive in the this field of innovation," Daniel says.

Daniel Leeb and Associate Administrator Karen Feldstein on the right …

Daniel Leeb and Associate Administrator Karen Feldstein on the right and Deputy Associate Administrator, Meredith McKay in the middle from the NASA OIIR (Office of interagency and International Relations). Photo/Matthew Devlen

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