NASA’s powerful new Space Launch System rocket arrived at the launch site on Tuesday, ready to fly its first mission to the moon.
Standing taller than the Statue of Liberty and crowned with an Orion spacecraft, the 23-story rocket was lifted onto a crawler and rolled 4 miles through the darkness to Launch Pad 39B.
The crawler made its trip at a glacial pace of about 1 to 2 miles per hour and the trip took over 10 hours, starting at about 10 p.m. ET after technicians waited for a lightning storm to pass.
NASA built the SLS to restore its presence on the moon. The rocket is the cornerstone of the agency’s new Artemis program, which aims to establish permanent bases in lunar orbit and on its surface, paving the way to eventually send astronauts to Mars.
To kick off the program, NASA has set an ambitious goal of landing astronauts on the Moon in 2025, placing boots on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
The rocket is set to roar into life and scream into Florida skies as early as August 29, propelling an unmanned Orion spacecraft toward the moon for the first time.
If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft should fly a wide loop around the moon and back, plummeting to an ocean landing on October 10.
Artemis I is a test. Before putting in astronauts, NASA needs to prove that SLS and Orion can do the job.
Four car-sized engines and two rocket boosters should give the rocket enough thrust to push Orion all the way to the moon — traveling farther into deep space than any spacecraft built for human passengers has ever traveled.
While this Orion capsule will be unmanned, Artemis I will test the capabilities of the rocket and spacecraft to carry astronauts on the more than 250,000-mile journey to the moon.
“This is now the Artemis generation,” Bill Nelson, NASA’s administrator, said at an Aug. 3 press conference. “We were in the Apollo generation, but this is a new generation, this is a new type of astronaut. And to all of us who look up at the moon, dreaming of the day when humanity returns to the lunar surface, folks, here we are. We’re coming 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 to the same lunar orbit. Artemis III would then carry the astronauts into lunar orbit and tether to a SpaceX spacecraft, which would land them on the lunar 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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