NASA’s Artemis program has a lofty goal to send humans back to the Moon, but the first steps toward getting off the ground may look familiar to anyone who ever played with blocks as a kid.
On June 11, engineers started “stacking” the Space Launch System core stage rocket — an unassuming name for the multi-day process of lifting the 188,000-pound rocket and attaching it to its boosters.
At 212-feet-tall, the SLS core stage is the largest rocket NASA has built since the Apollo-launching Saturn V, befitting its exceptional mission.
The boosters themselves were assembled in March at the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.
Stacking the 17-story-tall boosters took an even more intensive process than lifting the core stage, since each comprises five sections that had to be put together on the launcher.
With the core stage rocket installed, the largest parts of the SLS are now in place to carry the Orion spacecraft to the Moon.
What remains is to bolt a series of modules and the Orion itself to the top of the core stage rocket. If all goes according to plan, Artemis 1 will launch in November 2021.
The uncrewed test flight is meant to ensure that Orion can land on the Moon and be recovered safely ahead of a crewed flyby mission planned for 2023.
The Artemis program is intended to establish a foothold for future deep space exploration, and make history by landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon in 2024.
Before any of that happens, NASA’s megarocket remains standing as an engineering marvel and a hopeful monument to the next era of space exploration.
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