It’s going to be quite a sight when NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft appear on the launchpad for the very first time later this week.
The new heavy launch vehicle is part of NASA’s Artemis program that’s set to usher in a new era of human lunar exploration when it blasts off for our nearest neighbor in the coming months.
Ahead of the rocket’s four-mile journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to Launch Pad 39B on Thursday, NASA has released a trailer (below) highlighting the upcoming Artemis I mission and the hopes that it holds.
We are going. 🚀 pic.twitter.com/Ic3uLQew9S
— NASA Artemis (@NASAArtemis) March 14, 2022
The SLS rocket, which stands at 322 feet (98.1 meters), is yet to fly but has undergone extensive ground-based testing in recent years. The vehicle is capable of creating around 8.8 million pounds of thrust, making it 13% more powerful than the space shuttle and 15% more powerful than the Saturn V rocket that sent Apollo astronauts on their voyages to the moon five decades ago.
When SLS reaches the launchpad later this week, it will undergo final tests in preparation for the uncrewed Artemis I mission that could launch as early as May this year. Artemis I will involve SLS sending Orion on a flyby of the moon with the spacecraft set to return to Earth about 26 days later.
A successful mission will pave the way for the crewed Artemis II flight that will take the same route. Following that, the highly anticipated Artemis III mission will put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface, possibly before the end of this decade.
The hope is that the Artemis missions will lead to the creation of a long-term human presence on the lunar surface and also serve as a stepping stone for crewed flights to Mars and possibly beyond.
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