Last week, NASA unveiled its new mega Moon rocket when it rolled out to the launch pad for testing and a wet dress rehearsal.
When the Shuttle program ended, the focus within the agency became the Space Launch System and the Artemis program. Since 2011 the Vehicle Assembly Building, Mobile Launcher Tower, Crawler-Transporter-2, and launchpad have been modified and refitted to support SLS. Late last year, the 322-foot tall rocket was stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building with the Orion spacecraft atop the rocket.
Rocket rollouts are generally sparsely attended events viewed by employees and media. But for this historic moment, agency partners, NASA administrators, astronauts, employees, and families converged on Kennedy Space Center by the thousands.
After a short delay, the rollout of the massive rocket began at 4:47 p.m. CT on Thursday, March 17th. In the beginning, the rollout was more like a crawl. The SLS, mobile launcher, crawler, and the umbilicals and launch accessories moved into position in front of the Rocco A. Petrone Launch Control Center.
From this position, everyone in attendance had the opportunity to take in the incredible size of the rocket. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson addressed the crowd saying, “Today, a new generation, the Artemis generation, is preparing to reach new frontiers. This generation will return astronauts to the Moon.”
This planned stop was also an opportunity to fully retract the crew access arm away from the Orion spacecraft, a step that would need to happen before launch.
Once the test was complete, crawler-transporter 2 began moving down the first stretch of the crawlerway, a 130-foot wide path of double tracks filled with Tennessee river rock. At just under a max speed of 1 mph, the fully integrated stack began a nearly twelve-hour journey to the launchpad.
The moon-bound rocket made an impression on everyone in attendance and the thousands more watching the event as a full moon rose behind it. In the distance, light flooded the launchpad as NASA’s SLS crawled along.
At 3:15 a.m. CT SLS with Orion reached the pad. Engineers then secured the MLP to the launch pad, and the rocket was powered up.