NASA is busy preparing its ambitious Artemis program that will see the first woman and next man set foot on the moon by 2024, and which also includes plans for a permanent lunar base and crewed trips to Mars.
The preparations include making sure its super heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the accompanying Orion spacecraft, are safe and reliable for the challenging moon mission.
In a message posted on Twitter on Thursday, July 2, NASA announced it has now completed structural testing for the SLS rocket at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
An included video (below) shows a test version of the rocket’s liquid oxygen tank being deliberately pushed to its very limit, with the procedure culminating — as planned — in the tank’s dramatic destruction.
The sequence shows a replica of the rocket hardware, a so-called “structural test article,” being installed in a test stand at NASA’s Space Flight Center. For the test, hydraulic systems pushed and pulled on the hardware to simulate the stresses that the rocket will experience during launch and ascent. For this particular test, NASA engineers wanted to place a level of stress on the rocket that was far beyond what they expect to see during the actual launch in order to obtain precise data about its structural limits.
“Engineers in Marshall’s test lab worked with the SLS team to test four of the structures that make up most of the rocket’s 212-foot core stage and also the structures that make up the entire upper part of the rocket,” NASA said in an article accompanying the video. “The final test concludes a nearly three-year structural test series that qualified the structural design of these multiple hardware elements for the rocket that will launch NASA’s Artemis missions and astronauts to the moon.”
Orion, the astronaut-carrying spacecraft that will launch atop the SLS, recently completed space environment testing, taking NASA another step toward meeting its launch goal.
NASA is aiming to get Artemis astronauts to the moon in the next four years, but the project has been grappling with a number of delays and a spiraling budget. Despite the challenges, astronaut Christina Koch, who recently broke the record for the longest single continuous stay in space for a woman at 328 days, told Digital Trends recently that NASA can “absolutely” achieve its “bold goal” of returning humans to the moon by 2024.
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