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As part of its Artemis 1 mission that will send the Space Launch System (SLS) to the Moon, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began the rollout of the SLS rocket to the launch pad earlier today. This mission will launch the rocket and its upper stage spacecraft to orbits in Moon's vicinity before the spacecraft, the Orion capsule, heads back to Earth. It serves to test several of the rocket and its spacecraft's features before the next mission, dubbed Artemis 2, which will become the first to take a crew to the lunar surface.
NASA's Moon Rocket Heads To The Launch Pad With Less Than Two Weeks Remaining For Earliest Launch Date
The rollout of the rocket to the launch pad kicks off a crucial period in American spaceflight as a variety of different super heavy lift rockets have started to take shape. Out of these, the SLS which is developed primarily by the Boeing Company, is the closest to a launch, with others from Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin being the next two, respectively.
Standing 322 feet tall, the SLS is NASA's most powerful rocket built to date, as it is more powerful than both the Saturn V rocket that sent astronauts to the Moon and the Space Shuttle which was responsible for building the International Space Station (ISS). The rocket is capable of generating 8.8 million pounds of thrust and is capable of launching more than 27 tons of cargo to the Moon. Once operational it will also become the most powerful rocket in the world.
Today's rollout came after NASA addressed several issues with the vehicle in its 526 feet high bay in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The final saw the agency complete the testing of the rocket's flight termination system (FTS) - which allows the Space Force to destroy it during flight should things go awry. The FTS has a separate power source from the rocket, and as a result, it is deemed to be functional only for a handful of weeks after final checks.
The rollout was planned for 9 pm Eastern Time today, but weather constraints saw it start to leave the VAB an hour later at 10 pm. NASA is currently targeting August 28th for the Artemis 1 launch, and it has two other launch windows, both in the first week of September available as well. However, if the rocket does not launch on these days, then it will be transported back to the High Bay to reset the FTS.
NASA's crawler transporter, which weighs an eye-popping 6.6 million pounds and is as big as a baseball field will move the SLS to the launch pad. The entire maneuver will take roughly eight hours, with a top speed of one mile per hour.
The Artemis 1 mission will last anywhere between 39 to 42 days, and during this time period, NASA will focus on validating the Orion spacecraft's communication capabilities and the radiation exposures for future crews. Key testing criteria will however involve studying the spacecraft's reentry profile during the final stage of the mission.
This will involve what is dubbed as a "skip" reentry during which a spacecraft initially enters the Earth's atmosphere only to bounce back and enter again at a different point. The re-entry will expose the spacecraft to temperatures that can not be tested on Earth, and the mission will provide the space agency with a valuable opportunity to test its heat shield and other materials before a crewed flight takes place on Artemis 2.
You can catch the rollout live here courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center: