NASA's Newest Moon rocket rolls out for the first time
March 17th, rollout began at 5:00 PM Est from the VAB
For the first time since 2009 a rocket will stand on Launch Complex 39B, and the first time since 1972 that rocket will travel to the Moon. That's 3,941 days for a rocket, and 18,117 days for a Moon rocket to visit this launch complex. The rocket, NASA's SLS or Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built. Standing 321 feet tall, it's shorter than the original Moon rocket, the Saturn V, but will provide over a million more pounds of thrust at lift off.
At 11:00 AM Est this morning the largest doors in the world began to open. After forty-five minutes they stood fully agape, with the newest Moon rocket on public display for the first time. SLS has been assembled inside the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) over the course of the last year and until yesterday it remained hidden by the numerous floors of the building until they were retracted in preparation for the rocket to rollout. The VAB was built by NASA to assemble the Saturn V rockets, and later was used for the Shuttle Program. It's boasted as the largest single-story building in the world. As it does have numerous floors and levels leading all the way up its 528ft height, none of them are permanent, and can be moved in and out of place while assembling whatever project is being worked on at the time. When the last shuttle landed in 2011 the VAB stood empty until 2014 when renovations commenced to prepare for the Artemis era and SLS rockets. During the two years down time, public tours were available of the VAB. In 2019 NASA leased High Bay 2 to Northrop Grumman for their use of the OmegA launch vehicle, but in 2020 the program was cancelled.
At 5:00 PM Est this evening the rocket and mobile launch platform began its slow roll towards LC-39B. At .8 mph this trip will take eleven hours and reach the pad in the early morning. With the MLP (Mobile Launch Platform) facing the open door of High Bay 3 it wasn't until the rocket began to exit the building that we got our first full look at the behemoth that is SLS. A decade, and billions of dollars in the making finally put on public display as it crawls towards the East for the first time. Crawler-Transporter-2, a 6.6-million-pound machine is what is carrying the weight of our nation's newest Moon rocket on its back. Originally used for the Apollo missions and later the Shuttle Program this transporter is over fifty years old and undergone numerous modifications to modernize the crawler. These modifications include upgrading the vehicles control room, and expanded strain and temperature system, a new condition monitoring system, upgraded brakes, engine refurbishments, and two new Cummins 1,500-kilowatt AC generators. There's also a fresh new logo that was added last week, the logo of Artemis, as it's finally time for Artemis to return man, and land the first woman on our Moon.
It hasn't just been NASA's equipment that had an overhaul to prepare for SLS, but also the 4.2-mile long crawlerway which leads from the VAB to LC-39B. Another incredible feat of engineering built back in the Apollo days, the crawlerway was designed to support the immense weight of the launch vehicles used for space flight and can support up to twenty-six million pounds. This was the first time any repairs have been made to the track since it was constructed in the 1960's. The top layer of Alabama river rock was removed and replaced as it was worn down over the years of rockets and shuttles travelling across its path.
NASA is focusing on the readiness of three major milestones in preparation for the Artemis I launch. That's rollout, WDR (Wet Dress Rehearsal) and rollback to the VAB. Once these milestones are concluded and data is analyzed the team will announce a tarte launch date for this historic mission. Currently NASA stated they are targeting April 3rd for the Wet Dress Rehearsal and then rollback eight or nine days after that test has concluded.
Once SLS launches for the first time on the Artemis I mission it will travel further and longer than any human rated spacecraft has gone. This will be the first launch in a series of increasingly complex missions. Artemis I will provide the foundation for human deep space exploration, traveling 280,000 miles from Earth, thousands of miles passed the Moon and then after four to six weeks return home to Earth.
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