The massive 322-foot (98-meter) stack, which includes a NASA Space Launch System rocket and topped by the Orion spacecraft, will be rolled out for its first test at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday.
The 4-mile (6.4 km) journey aboard one of NASA’s giant Apollo-era crawlers from the assembly building to the launch pad could take up to 11 hours, according to NASA.
“The rollout of (the Vehicle Assembly Building) is really a special moment for this vehicle,” Tom Whitmeyer, associate director of Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters, said during a press conference Monday. “Thursday will be an unforgettable day.”
Rehearsal involves performing a full range of operations to load propellant into fuel tanks and a countdown to launch – all that is essentially necessary for launch without actual launch. During the pre-exercise hours, more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic propellant will be loaded into the rocket
If the test is successful, the stack will return to the assembly building until it is ready to run.
“Artemis 1 is an important mission for us,” Howard Hu, Orion program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said during Monday’s press conference. “It collects critical engineering data and validates our performance capability as a spacecraft for our next mission and beyond – Artemis 2 with the crew and future missions as we go further and expand our capabilities in the solar system.”
Artemis has experienced many delays. The mission was originally scheduled to launch in November 2021, but the pandemic, storms such as Hurricane Ida and other factors have extended the mission’s schedule.
Artemis I is the first step in NASA’s ambitious program to land the first woman and first people of color on the Moon later in the 1920s. All in preparation for establishing a long-term presence on the Moon and preparing to explore Mars. Depending on the results of the rehearsal, the unmanned mission could begin in May, June or July.
During the flight, the unmanned Orion spacecraft will blast above an SLS rocket to reach the moon and travel thousands of miles behind it — farther than any spacecraft intended to carry humans has traveled. This mission is expected to last a few weeks and will end with Orion spray in the Pacific Ocean.
Orion’s former program manager, Kathy Corner, said in October that Artemis I will be Orion’s final test site before the spacecraft carries astronauts to the moon, 1,000 times more Earth than the space station’s location. Korner is now NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development.
After the uncrewed Artemis I flight, Artemis II will be a lunar flight and Artemis III will return astronauts to the lunar surface. The schedule for launching subsequent missions depends on the results of the Artemis I mission.
I’ll ride Artemis I atop the Crawler Transporter-2 for its ride to the launch pad, just like the shuttle missions and Apollo Saturn V missiles once did.
The 6.6 million pound (3 million kilogram) crawler will carry the towering missile group and mobile launcher at a top speed of 1 mph (1.6 kilometers per hour).
The iconic crawler is one of two that have been in operation for more than 50 years at the Kennedy Space Center. They were first commissioned in 1965 and each can carry 18 million pounds (8.2 million kilograms), or the weight of more than 20 fully loaded 777s, according to NASA. It’s so wide that a professional baseball diamond can sit on top of every crawler.
“It’s going to be amazing,” said Charlie Blackwell Thompson, Artemis launch manager for NASA’s Earth Exploration Systems Program at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday. “It’s been in business for over 50 years and has undergone major upgrades as part of preparing for this vehicle and Artemis operations.”
After upgrades, the Crawler Transporter-2 should be able to continue towing massive rockets to the launch pad for years to come.
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