The journey undertaken by NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket overnight on Tuesday couldn’t be more different to the one it’s set to take on August 29.
Tuesday’s trip saw NASA’s mega moon rocket crawl at a snail-like pace from the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39B, covering the four-mile route in just under 10 hours.
But in August, NASA’s new vehicle will become the most powerful rocket ever to fly when it blasts off for the moon in a mission that will usher in a new era of space exploration.
Shortly after the SLS reached the launchpad on Wednesday morning, Boeing, builder of the Orion spacecraft that sits atop NASA’s rocket, posted a time-lapse video that compresses the SLS’s 10-hour journey into a mere 25 seconds.
NASA’s 332-feet rocket was transported to the launchpad using a giant, low-slung vehicle called the Crawler Transporter-2. The chunky-looking machine is the size of a baseball infield and has a top speed of 1 mph when loaded, or 2 mph when unloaded.
Now that the SLS rocket is in place on the launchpad, engineers and technicians will spend time configuring systems in readiness for the highly anticipated launch in less than two weeks’ time.
“Teams have worked to refine operations and procedures and have incorporated lessons learned from the wet dress rehearsal test campaign,” NASA said in a message on its website following the rocket’s arrival at the launchpad.
NASA’s uncrewed Artemis I mission on August 29 will be first integrated test of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. Orion will perform a flyby of the moon before returning to Earth in a mission expected to last 42 days.
If it goes well, Artermis II will take the same route but this time with a crew on board, while Artemis III, which could take place as early as 2025, will put the first woman and first person of color onto the lunar surface.
Marking it out from the Apollo missions that put the first humans on the moon five decades ago, NASA’s Artemis program is aiming to build a long-term lunar base from where astronauts can explore new parts of the moon, with a long-term plan to use Earth’s nearest neighbor as a stepping stone for the first crewed mission to Mars.