We love it when a rocket comes together.
In October 2021, NASA finished stacking the huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for its Artemis 1 moon mission inside the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. That was a big milestone for the agency and its moon-exploration plans, and a newly released time-lapse video captures the process for posterity.
The two-minute video, which NASA released on Wednesday (Feb. 9), shows the many steps required to assemble the 322-foot-tall (98 meters) SLS, which consists of a central core stage and two strap-on solid rocket boosters. The final step, as seen in the time-lapse, was the attachment of the Orion crew capsule to the top of the core stage.
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As its name suggests, Artemis 1 will be the first flight of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to establish a permanent human presence on and around the moon by the end of the 2020s. It will also mark the debut of the powerful but oft-delayed SLS. (Orion has flown once before, on an uncrewed test flight to Earth orbit that launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in December 2014.)
Artemis 1 will send an uncrewed Orion on a trip around the moon, ensuring that both the SLS and the capsule are ready to launch astronauts safely to deep space.
NASA is currently gearing up for a key Artemis 1 “wet dress rehearsal,” which will take place at KSC’s Launch Complex 39B. The SLS-Orion stack will be fueled on the pad and taken through the normal prelaunch sequence during the test, which will stop short of engine ignition.
The wet dress rehearsal is expected to take place sometime in March, NASA officials wrote in an update Friday (Feb. 11). There is currently no set launch date for Artemis 1, though a liftoff in April or May seems likely.
Artemis 2, the program’s first crewed mission, is targeted for 2024. That flight will take astronauts on a trip around the moon, but they will not land on it. Artemis 3 will send astronauts to the lunar surface, with SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft serving as the lander. NASA hopes to launch that historic mission sometime in 2025.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.