NASA’s new lunar rocket rolls for the first time for dress rehearsal

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft on board on a mobile launcher rolls off for the first time.

Photo: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA/Getty Images

NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) lunar rocketthe most powerful built to date, left its processing building at the Kennedy Space Center for the first time on Thursday, kicking off an 11-hour trip to the launch pad and a countdown to dress rehearsal on April 3 to clear the way for an expected maiden flight.

The 322-foot-tall rocket, anchored to a 10-million-pound mobile launch gantry atop a massive tracked carrier, began inching toward High Bay 3 in the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building at 5:47 p.m. EDT, to cheers and applause from a crowd of dignitaries, NASA workers and their families.

Engineers will perform the final test, known as a dress rehearsal, of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion spacecraft and the Exploration Ground Systems, before the launch of Artemis I at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Artemis I, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the most powerful rocket in the world, ever seen, right here!” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, pointing to the SLS rocket just behind him. “And it’s back to the moon and then to Mars!”

The rocket’s maiden flight, the first mission in NASA’s Artemis lunar program, “will pave the way for humanity’s giant leap, future missions to Mars,” Nelson said.

The pilotless test flight, expected in late May or June, will carry three instrumented mannequins, and a spacesuit-wearing Peanuts Snoopy doll, past the Moon and back to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean to pave the way for the first piloted Artemis mission in 2024.

The first in a series of increasingly complex quests, Artemis I will provide a base for human exploration of deep space and will demonstrate NASA’s commitment and ability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond, prior to the first crewed flight on Artemis II.

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