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NASA’s massive new moon rocket arrives at launch pad

NASA’s next-generation rocket system, designed to carry spacecraft to the moon as part of the Artemis mission, has arrived at its launch pad for the first time. The Space Launch System (SLS), standing at 212 feet tall, arrived at Launch Pad 39B at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday, March 18, following a 10.5-hour journey from its assembly building.

The rocket was topped with the Orion spacecraft, ready for testing before the uncrewed Artemis I mission to the moon. Subsequent Artemis missions will be crewed, with the aim to put humans back on the moon by 2025. “From this sacred and historical place, humanity will soon embark on a new era of exploration,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “Artemis I will demonstrate NASA’s commitment and capacity to extend humanity’s presence on the Moon — and beyond.”

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher.
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher as it rolls out of High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the first time to Launch Complex 39B, Thursday, March 17, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Ahead of NASA’s Artemis I flight test, the fully stacked and integrated SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will undergo a wet dress rehearsal at Launch Complex 39B to verify systems and practice countdown procedures for the first launch. NASA/Joel Kowsky

To reach the launch pad, the SLS was mounted to a machine called a crawler which transported the 3.5 million pound rocket from the site’s Vehicle Assembly Building. It left the building at 5:47 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 17, and arrived at 4:15 a.m. ET on Friday, March 18.

The rocket is now ready for its final test, called a wet dress rehearsal, in which the launch sequence is carried out and fuel is loaded into the rocket’s tanks. The engines won’t actually ignite, however. If all goes well, the rocket could launch for real in May this year.

“Rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building is an iconic moment for this rocket and spacecraft, and this is a key milestone for NASA,” said Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for Common Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now at the pad for the first time, we will use the integrated systems to practice the launch countdown and load the rocket with the propellants it needs to send Orion on a lunar journey in preparation for launch.”

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