A Nasa official said that astronauts are on course to be on the moon by the end of the decade.

Howard Hu, the head of the US agency's Orion lunar spacecraft programme, said humans could be active on the moon fordurations before2030, with habitats to live in and rovers to support their work

Depending on how long we are on the surface, we will have people living for a long time. He said that they would have habitats and rovers on the ground. He said that people would be sent down to the surface to live and do science.

On Sunday, Hu was speaking as the 98-metre (322ft) Artemis rocket powered towards the moon's first uncrewed mission.

After a series of delays due to technical issues and hurricanes, the giant rocket, which is topped with the Orion spaceship, was launched on Wednesday.

The stresses and strains of the Artemis 1 mission will be recorded by the three fully suited mannequins in the spaceship. The rocket is not far away from the moon.

It is the beginning of long-term deep-space exploration for both the United States and the world. Hu said that it was a historic day for all the people who love space flight and deep-space exploration.

We will return to the moon. He said that the vehicle that will carry the people that will land us on the moon again is a sustainable programme.

A Nasa astronaut on a lunar rover on the surface of the moon

The Nasa astronaut Gene Cernan on a lunar rover during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972 – the last time people landed on the moon. Photograph: Nasa /Reuters

The mission will fly within 60 miles of the moon and go for a further 40,000 miles before returning to Earth. The 25 day mission will be the farthest a human-built spaceship has ever flown.

The heat shield of the spaceship will be sent up to 2,800C when it comes back to Earth. It is expected to land off the coast.

The Artemis 2 and 3 flights will send humans around the moon and back if the mission goes well. The Artemis 3 mission is expected to return humans to the moon for the first time in 42 years. The first woman on the moon would be followed by the first person of color on the lunar surface.

The lunar gateway will be a space station where astronauts will live and work as they travel to the moon. Hu said that moving forward is to Mars. That is a two-year journey, so it is going to be important to learn.