Auckland University cosmology PhD student Yourong "Frank" Wang captured the above long-exposure image as a Rocket Lab Electron took off from Mahia at 9.55pm last night.
Wang, who travelled to Gisborne to capture the image, called his first in-person rocket launch viewing a "profoundly meaningful experience".
In a post, Rocket Lab described the first leg of the moon mission as "flawless".
The Electron blasted Nasa's Capstone micro-satellite 500km above the Earth, where it is now in orbit attached to a Rocket Lab Photon - a small "spacecraft bus" which was housed in the Electron's third stage.
Over the next six days, the Photon will perform a series of orbit-raising manoeuvres before a final "trans-lunar injection" thrust that will send it toward the moon, some 1.3 million kilometres away.
It is due to arrive on November 13, when it will place Capstone into an experimental halo orbit lunar orbit - a lopsided elliptical path that will take it as close as 1600km to the lunar surface and as far away as 68,260km.
Researchers expect this orbit to be a gravitational sweet spot in space – where the pull of gravity from Earth and the moon interact to allow for a nearly-stable orbit – allowing physics to do most of the work of keeping a spacecraft in orbit around the moon.
If the six-month mission goes to plan, Nasa will use the same orbit for a mini-space station - which will form part of its Artemis programme to return astronauts to the moon.
The Capstone mission will set several firsts.
It's the first lunar mission launched from NZ soil, and the Electron is the smallest rocket ever used for a moon mission. It's also the cheapest moon mission, by some margin. Nasa is paying Rocket Lab $14 million for Capstone - chump change in the context of the US$93 billion Artemis programme overall.
"This is the most complex and high-risk mission Rocket Lab has ever flown. For context, our typical missions see Electron deploy satellites to around 500km above Earth's surface. The highest altitude Electron has deployed a spacecraft to date is 1200km," Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck told the Herald earlier.
Last night, after the successful launch, Beck said, "Today's launch was an important step in humanity's return to the moon and a testament to the determination, resolve, and innovation of the hundreds of people behind Capstone."
The mission also marks an increasingly close relationship between Rocket Lab and Nasa.
Rocket Lab has a number of projects in the pipeline, including a contract (for an as-yet-undisclosed sum) to design and built two Photon spacecraft that will go into orbit around Mars in 2024, after being carried to the red planet by a Nasa-provided rocket. The mission's aim is to shed light on how Mars lost its once-habitable atmosphere.
Rocket Lab also recently won a contract to make a radiation-hardened solar panel array for Nasa's Glide spacecraft, due to launch in 2025.
Glide (an acronym for Global Lyman-alpha Imagers of the Dynamic Exosphere) will survey the exosphere, the little-understood outermost layer of Earth's atmosphere).
Rocket Lab did not put a value on the Glide contract, but it's part of an ongoing push to diversify its revenue from rocket launches to a lot of business in "space systems" too. And it was possible because Rocket Lab bought SolAero, a New Mexico maker of solar components, for US$80m ($125m) last December - the fourth of a series of purchases of North American space system makers.
And Rocket Lab's new Launch Complex 2 in Virginia - soon to see its first launch - sits inside Nasa's Wallops Flight Facility.
The Capstone launch comes after a month of mixed fortunes for Rocket Lab's rivals.
The Elon Musk-owned SpaceX managed two Falcon 9 launches within 15 hours (a rapid-fire capability Rocket Lab hopes to match with its recently opened second launchpad at Mahia), while a failed launch by Astra destroyed two Nasa satellites.
Rocket Lab shares, which reverse-listed at US$10.00 last August and shot to US$18.69 the following month, were recently trading at US$3.96.
While the Kiwi-American firm recently reported that its forward-bookings had fattened to US$550m, and that it had won major funding from both the US military ($34m) and the state of Virginia ($69m) in support of its new, much larger Neuron rocket, due for its first launch in 2024, its stock has been caught up in the general Tech Wreck 2.0 downdraft.