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NASA’s mighty moon rocket completes its gentlest mission ever

NASA Barge Crew Describes What It’s Like to Transport Moon Rocket

For such a powerful piece of machinery, it’s incongruous to see NASA’s SLS moon rocket taking a leisurely barge trip.

The space agency used the enormous Pegasus barge to transport its 212-foot-tall (64.6 meters), 27.6-foot-diameter (8.4 meters) core stage booster from the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where it underwent testing, to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Artemis I launch preparations.

Relying on barge power instead of its awesome RS-25 engines, the SLS rocket traveled 900 miles along both inland and ocean waterways aboard the 310-foot-long (94.5 meters) vessel, with a experienced crew from Center Operations at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, overseeing the delicate operation.

A video (top) posted this week shows the rocket on its way to Kennedy Space Center, and includes the Pegasus crew talking about their work.

NASA has always used barges to move large spaceflight hardware from testing and manufacturing facilities to launch sites at Kennedy. Due to the SLS rocket’s large size — it’s the longest item ever shipped by a NASA barge — the space agency had to carry out design changes to Pegasus.

pegasus rocket transporter
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“Pegasus was specially designed and built in 1999 to transport the giant external tanks of the space shuttles from the Louisiana shore to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the eastern coast of Florida,” NASA says on its website, adding that the vessel “replaced Poseidon and Orion, barges that were used to carry Saturn rocket stages and hardware for the Apollo Program. Pegasus completed its final space shuttle-related voyage in 2011.”

Now that it has reached its destination, the core stage will soon join the two solid rocket boosters inside a facility where it will be assembled to create the final SLS launch vehicle.

The SLS core stage recently completed successful test fires to ensure the integrity and operation of the moon-bound rocket. NASA is now focused on its highly anticipated Artemis I mission, set to take place in the fall. The crewless mission will involve the SLS rocket launching the Orion capsule to space, where it will undertake a fly-by of the moon before returning to Earth. If that goes to plan, the Artemis II mission will launch a crew of four astronauts on a fly-by of the moon, with Artemis III attempting a crewed lunar landing before the end of this decade.

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Trevor Mogg
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