United States space agency NASA rolled out its massive new mega-rocket, for the first time. The rocket with its Orion crew capsule perched on top embarked on its first journey to a launchpad on Thursday, March 17th, ahead of a battery of tests that will pave the way for it to blast off to the Moon sometime this summer.
Known as the Space Launch System (SLS), the rocket was taken to the pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to conduct a dummy countdown. It departed the Vehicle Assembly Building of the Kennedy Space Center around 5:47 pm Eastern Time (2100 GMT). The rocket began an 11-hour journey on a crawler-transporter to the Launch Complex 39B, 6.5 kilometers away.
If everything goes well, the rollout will pave the way for NASA’s uncrewed Artemis I mission around the Moon and back. Although it had been delayed by a series of technical issues last month, the space agency claimed they had been rectified as teams prepared the rocket for launch. Ultimately, astronauts are expected to board later SLS rockets and return to the Moon’s surface in the second half of this decade.
Around 10,000 people had gathered to watch the event
It’s the first time everyone has to see all of its different elements fully stacked together. NASA Television and the space agency’s website broadcasted the event live. The National Anthem was played by a band from the University of Central Florida as the rollout started in front of throngs of employees and other bystanders who had gathered outside to observe the event.
“Right here, ladies and gentlemen is the world’s most powerful rocket,” NASA chief Bill Nelson addressed the crowd, gesturing toward the spacecraft minutes after the launch started. “Humanity will soon enter a new period of exploration,” he further explains.
NASA said in its webcast that the former astronaut Tom Stafford, who orbited the Moon as commander of Apollo 10 in 1969, was among those in the crowd.
“The Artemis generation is gearing up to explore new territory,” Nelson informed the throngs of people who gathered at Kennedy. “This generation will send astronauts back to the Moon. And this time, the first woman and a person of color will land on the surface to perform significant research.
These missions are part of NASA’s Artemis program
While watching the rollout, the agency administrator Bill Nelson said we were entering a golden era of human space exploration.
“This is just the first of several phases for the Artemis missions,” said Nelson.
The mission, dubbed Artemis-1, will propel the rocket’s Orion crew capsule on a 26-day journey that includes an expanded orbit around the Moon. There will be no one in the capsule for the test flight. This should happen on the second mission in a couple of years.
“Orion will make its history by venturing further than any other spacecraft that has been built for humans,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “We’ll demonstrate that Orion can come back through the fiery heat of re-entry from lunar velocities faster than when we came back with the Space Shuttle,” said Nelson.
Wet dress rehearsal
The SLS-Orion spacecraft will be prepared for a vital pre-flight test known as a “wet dress rehearsal,” which is expected to begin on April 3rd and last two days. That includes loading propellants, practicing every aspect of the launch countdown to a mere 9.4 seconds from the moment of lift-off, and draining the moon rocket. The “scrub” point is before they would normally light the four big shuttle-era engines under the rocket.
Sending people to the space
By 2024, the goal is for it to take the first woman and first person of color to the Moon. Then send people to work in lunar orbit and on the Moon’s surface.
“There’s still something magical about sending people to space, and we’re sending people to another planet on the Moon, regardless of your definition of another planet. It feels in your heart that way,” said Dr. Buzasi.
“It was in 1972 when we last visited the Moon. So, it’s going to be 50 years in December. So, it’s been a long time. And we’ve been talking about going back pretty much ever since,” said FGCU Professor Dr. Derek Buzasi, who once worked for NASA in the astrophysics division and on the Hubble Space Telescope.
What you should know about NASA’s new rocket
The rocket applies a lot of technology dating back from the space shuttle program. The SLS came out of the Vehicle Assembly Building or VAB just before 18:00 local Florida time. It was attached to a support gantry known as the Mobile Launcher. This structure, which is 394 ft (120m) high and weighs 5,000 tonnes, was sitting atop the same mammoth tractor used to move the Saturn Vs. back in the day, and later the space shuttles.
The Crawler Transporter goes slowly at a cruising speed of just over 1km/h (under 1mph). So, it was some 11 hours before the rocket arrived at the pad, a distance of 3,1 mi (5km) from the VAB. Engineers stopped and started the tractor along the way to check everything was as it should be.
The first version of the SLS is named Block 1. With the Orion crew capsule fixed atop, the Space Launch System (SLS) Block 1 stands 322 feet (98 meters) tall, loftier than the Statue of Liberty. However, less than the 363 feet of Saturn V rockets powered the Apollo missions to the Moon. The length of NASA’s space shuttle is around 184 feet.
At the time of its launch into orbit in 2022, the SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever in regards of thrust. At launch, the Block 1 SLS will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust (39.1 meganewtons), which is 15% more than the Saturn V. Speaking to media earlier this week, Tom Whitmeyer, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, said, “This is a flagship rocket you’re about to see, it’s a symbol of our country.”
The SLS-Orion is the backbone of NASA’s Artemis program. It cost $37 billion to develop, including ground systems and aims to return astronauts to the Moon and establish a long-term lunar colony as a forerunner to future human Mars exploration.
NASA’s Artemis is a stepping stone to Mars
The Mega Moon rocket will also pave the way for future Mars exploration by making robotic sample-return missions more feasible. The step will teach NASA how to avoid the hazards associated with sending humans deeper into the solar system. Its immense strength and ability to transport enormous amounts of cargo allow scientists to dream of even more ambitious initiatives, such as gathering samples from Saturn’s Moon Enceladus’ geysers.