NASA has never stopped sending probes into space, but it is about to renew its legacy human being Deep space explorers.
The US space agency will pull its Mega Moon rocket out of storage on Tuesday ahead of its inaugural Artemis I mission, an uncrewed probe around the moon, which will leave Earth by August 29.
The first leg of that trip, which NASA hasn’t undertaken since the last Apollo mission in 1972, begins Tuesday with a slow crawl of the rocket and spacecraft to the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Mission leaders call this final rollout “the first four miles of NASA’s return to the moon,” Michael Bolger, manager of exploration ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center, said at a news briefing.
Watch live coverage of the skyscraper below or on wheels NASA’s Kennedy Space Center YouTube Channel. The livestream begins at 3 pm ET on August 16, with the roll starting around 9 pm ET:
The majestic behemoth looks set to move down the “crawlerway” in March for launch rehearsals.
NASA’s Mega Moon rocket crawled onto the launchpad in March for a major fueling and countdown test.
Credit: NASA / Kim Shifflett
It has been a long time since NASA had a rocket of this scale capable of sending heavy cargo and astronauts into deep space. The 32-story, 5.75 million pound rocket — officially known as the Space Launch System, or SLS — is built to travel to the Moon, which is expected to one day send the first crewed flight to Mars. Robotic scientific missions to Saturn and Jupiter may also be in its future.
Artemis I, the first in a series of planned journeys named after the Greek goddess and Apollo’s twin, is a more than $4 billion launch to fly the Orion capsule farther than any spacecraft ever built for humans.
Although this test mission did not include astronauts, the 42-day spaceflight would allow the United States to send a crew on the next, more complex mission, Artemis II. The first moonwalk by a woman and a person of color is expected to occur during Artemis III, which is planned for around 2026.
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For Artemis I, the uncrewed Orion will fly a total of 1.3 million miles, including 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, while testing various orbits. Forty-two days after liftoff, the capsule splashes into the Pacific Ocean. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the primary purpose of this first mission was to test Orion’s ability to safely re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land in the right place for the fleet to recover.
“After its long flight test, Orion will come home faster and hotter than any other spacecraft. It will return to Mach 32. [speed]. It will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound. It’s going to bleed off a little bit from that velocity before it sinks into the atmosphere and starts descending through the atmosphere,” the former astronaut said at a briefing on Aug. 3. “We were at Mach 25 on the spacecraft. 17,500 miles per hour.”
But the Mega Moon rocket should warm up to it. It never travels more than 1 mph on its crawl to the launchpad.