NASA's preparing to go to the Moon.
The U.S. space agency's massive crawler-transporter 2 (CT-2) vehicle began slowly making its way to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday, March 11, according to a tweet from NASA.
The crawler, one of the biggest machines in the world, will pick up the U.S. space agency's Space Launch System megarocket and Orion spacecraft ahead of their launch scheduled for this summer. On Thursday, March 17, CT-2 will carry the pair on a 4-mile trip to launchpad 39B.
Crawler-transporter 2 is on the move!— NASA's Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) March 11, 2022
This massive transporter is currently making its way to the Vehicle Assembly Building to pick up @NASA_SLS and @NASA_Orion. On March 17, it’ll make the four-mile journey to Launch Complex 39B to drop off the #Artemis I Moon rocket. pic.twitter.com/CytCD4oxyy
All of this is in preparation for the Artemis 1 mission, which will see an uncrewed Orion spacecraft launched by SLS before making a trip around the Moon. The launch, scheduled for the summer, will kickstart NASA's Artemis project, which will send astronauts around the Moon with Artemis 2, before carrying out a crewed Moon landing with Artemis 3.
NASA's enormous rocket carrier
CT-2 is one of NASA's two massive crawler-transporter vehicles, built to carry rockets and spacecraft. In a NASA fact sheet, the agency explains that CT-2 is roughly the size of a baseball infield, and it weighs 2.9 million kilograms. It moves at a top speed of 1 mph when fully loaded and 2 mph when it's unloaded.
NASA recently upgraded the CT-2, which is over 50 years old, in preparation for the Artemis missions. The agency said it replaced the vehicle's roller assemblies and bearings and that the upgraded versions it added allow for a greater load capacity. The upgrades also include the addition of two new Cummin 1,500-kilowatt AC generators, new parking and service brakes, control system modifications, and a new paint job for CT-2.
The Artemis 1 launch is expected to take place no earlier than May. So, despite CT-2's snail's pace — required for safely transporting its $2 billion payload — it will have SLS and Orion on the spacecraft ready on the launchpad for tests well before launch.
If all goes according to plan, Artemis 3 will send humans back to the surface of the Moon around the year 2025. It will be the first time humans set foot on the lunar surface since 1972, the date of NASA's final Apollo moon landing. CT-2 arguably serves as a metaphor for the slow-moving but reliable spinning cogs of the U.S. space industry, which has recently received a new lease of life with its plans to go to the Moon and beyond.