Artemis I, NASA’s next lunar mission, is moving closer to receiving an official launch date. NASA personnel reported on Monday (March 14) at a press conference that the stacked spacecraft and moon rocket have been allowed to roll out to the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday (March 17) for prelaunch testing.
Weather permitting, the Orion spacecraft on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket — also called the “Mega Moon rocket” by NASA — will travel 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to Launch Pad 39B.
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According to Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, takeoff director for NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program at Kennedy, the rollout will begin at 5 p.m. local time, and the rocket will likely take eleven hours to reach its target, carried by the Crawler-Transporter 2 at a graceful rolling speed of 0.8 mph (1.3 km/h).
According to NASA, once the spacecraft and rocket are placed at the launch pad, engineers will spend approximately two weeks preparing for a launch rehearsal, which demonstrates that the moon rocket can be filled with super-cold liquid propellants.
The rehearsal’s “call to stations” is planned to take place on April 1, with tanking operations beginning April 3. Before closing up the rehearsal, draining the fuel tanks, and prepping the rocket for its return to the VAB, which should take another eight to nine days, engineers and technicians will perform the launch countdown to test the rocket’s responses to a mission termination scenario.
NASA plans to place the first woman and the first person of color on the moon with Artemis III. This significant achievement will also create the framework for establishing a long-term human presence on the moon, as well as play a key part in achieving an even more ambitious spaceflight goal: sending the first humans to Mars.