NASA Will Roll Artemis 1 Moon Rocket to the Launch Pad Today
It has been decades since NASA launched a moon mission, but we’re inching closer to a return to the lunar surface. Speaking of inching, the rocket that will return astronauts to the moon is going to begin creeping toward the launch pad today. NASA is rolling out the Artemis 1 Space Launch System (SLS) at Kennedy Space Center, making preparations to launch it this May. A lot has to go right before that can happen, and the SLS doesn’t exactly have a good track record.
We’ve seen companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin move toward reusable launch vehicles, but the SLS is a classic single-use rocket. The Artemis 1 mission is uncrewed, but it will still spend one of the Artemis Program’s lavishly expensive rockets. NASA Inspector General Paul Martin recently stated that the true cost of each launch could be $4.1 billion, much higher than the official $2 billion estimate. Thus, NASA has to make sure everything is perfect when Artemis 1 lights up its engines in a few months.
NASA will begin rolling the SLS out to Pad 39B at 5PM ET today (March 17). You can watch it live on YouTube (see below), complete with commentary from scientists and NASA administrator Bill Nelson. The megarocket will be riding the crawler, a 50-year-old vehicle build during the Apollo era that moves rockets between launch pads and the Vehicle Assembly Building where rockets are stacked prior to launch. The crawler is massive and sturdy, but it lives up to the name with a top speed of 0.8 MPH — it will take about 11 hours for the SLS to get where it’s going.
This won’t be Artemis 1’s final trip on Earth. Once it’s on the launch pad, NASA engineers will spend the next several weeks preparing for a “wet dress rehearsal” on April 3rd. The SLS will be fueled and prepped for launch, but NASA will only simulate the countdown. After the test, there will be a few weeks of analysis, and then Artemis 1 goes back to the VAB for one last check before it rolls out for the official launch.
NASA has Artemis on the schedule for an uncrewed flight in May, sending the Orion capsule around the moon and back. Artemis 2 will be essentially the same mission with a crew on board, slated for 2024. The following year, NASA hopes to launch Artemis 3, which will be the first lunar landing since the 1970s. The timeline for Artemis could still change — the SLS has taken years longer than expected to reach this point, and even minor errors at this stage could require months to address.