Finally! NASA's Space Launch System is at the rocket pad, ready for launch

The launch of Artemis I is within touching distance.
Chris Young
SLS rolling to the launch pad.
SLS rolling to the launch pad.

NASA/Joel Kowsky 

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is almost ready for launch.

The U.S. space agency's big new rocket reached Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at approximately 07:30 am EDT after a 10-hour journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

NASA recently announced an August 29 launch date for its Artemis I mission, which will see SLS launch the agency's Orion capsule on a trip to the moon and back. This came after the space agency successfully completed a much-delayed wet dress rehearsal in June, during which it filled SLS with fuel and performed a simulated countdown that stopped just short of launch.

This time, the countdown will go all the way down to the ignition of SLS's RS-25 engines.

SLS is NASA's most powerful rocket

Up to launch, NASA says "engineers and technicians will configure systems at the pad for launch" and that "teams have worked to refine operations and procedures and have incorporated lessons learned from the wet dress rehearsal test campaign and have updated the launch timeline accordingly."

SLS is NASA's most powerful rocket to date. It can send more than 27 metric tons (t) or 59,500 pounds (lbs.) to orbits beyond the moon. It's powered by twin five-segment solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 liquid propellant engines. After it reaches space, the rocket's Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) will send Orion on its trajectory towards the moon.

It will be a momentous occasion for NASA, its partners, and for the world, as it will be the first time the space agency has sent a large mission to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972 — Rocket Lab did recently launch a small cubesat towards the moon for NASA's CAPSTONE mission, which will test a potential orbit for its lunar Gateway station.

The mission will also pave the way for Artemis II, which will send astronauts on the same trip around the moon and back. Artemis III, meanwhile, will launch aboard SpaceX's fully reusable Starship rocket, which could carry out its first orbital flight in September. Artemis III will send astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17, including the first woman and person of color to reach the moon.

Massive crowds will gather to watch Artemis I

If Artemis I does launch on August 29, it is expected to return and make a splashdown over the Pacific Ocean on October 10. The mission will have lasted approximately 42 days. However, NASA has also set aside provisional launch dates of September 2 and 5 in case preparations aren't completed by the first window or weather conditions are unfavorable. If the launch doesn't take place by September 5, SLS will have to be rolled back to the VAB to charge its flight termination system. That would mean the launch would likely be postponed until October.

For the time being, it seems like preparations are going smoothly and we may finally see the much-delated launch of SLS take place this summer. Though the SLS program has faced criticism for going over budget and for being non-reusable as opposed to SpaceX's Falcon 9 and upcoming Starship, excitement is still palpable for the upcoming launch. As per Florida Today, so many people clamored to buy tickets last week to watch the launch that NASA's website crashed. With more than 100,000 visitors expected to make their way to Florida's Space Coast for the launch, it will be quite the spectacle.

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