NASA’s powerful new Space Launch System lunar rocket arrived at the launch pad on Tuesday, ready to fly its first mission to the moon.
Taller than the Statue of Liberty and crowned with an Orion spacecraft, the 23-story rocket was hoisted atop a tracker and rolled 4 miles in the dark to Launch Pad 39B.
The tracker made its journey at a glacial pace of approximately 1 to 2 miles per hour, and the hike took more than 10 hours, starting around 10 pm ET, after technicians waited for a lightning storm to pass.
NASA built the SLS to re-establish its presence on the moon. The rocket is the cornerstone of the agency’s new Artemis program, which aims to establish permanent bases in the moon’s orbit and on its surface, paving the way to eventually send astronauts to Mars.
To boost the program, NASA has set an ambitious goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2025, putting boots on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
The rocket is set to roar to life and scream across the Florida skies as soon as August 29, pushing an unmanned Orion spacecraft towards the moon for the first time.
If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft should make a grand loop around the moon and back, crashing to an ocean landing on October 10.
Artemis I is a test. Before putting astronauts on board, NASA needs to prove that the SLS and Orion can do the job.
Four car-sized engines and two rocket boosters should give the rocket enough thrust to push Orion across the moon – traveling farther into deep space than any spacecraft made for human passengers has ever traveled.
Although this Orion capsule has no one on board, Artemis I will test the rocket and spacecraft’s capabilities to transport astronauts on the more than 250,000 mile journey to the moon.
“This is now the Artemis generation,” Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, said at an Aug. 3 press conference. “We were in the Apollo generation, but this is a new generation, this is a new kind of astronaut. And for all of us who look up to the moon, dreaming of the day when humanity returns to the lunar surface, folks, we are here. We are going back and this journey, our journey, begins with Artemis I.
If the spacecraft successfully completes its mission, the next flight, called Artemis II, will send four astronauts on the same lunar roundabout. Then Artemis III would take the astronauts into lunar orbit and dock on a SpaceX spacecraft, which would land them on the moon’s surface.
This is just the beginning of NASA’s planned Artemis program. Eventually, NASA plans to launch astronauts from the Moon to Mars.
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