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On Thursday afternoon in Florida (in Italy it was night), NASA launched the transfer of its huge new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), to the launch pad ahead of its first mission to return to explore the Moon with astronauts and astronauts.
SLS is the height of a thirty-story building (98 meters) and had spent much of the last year inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the large building of the Kennedy Space Center once used for the assembly of the Space Shuttles. and even before the Saturn V, the powerful rockets of the Apollo space program that brought humans to the moon for the first time.
– NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (@NASAGroundSys) March 17, 2022
The transfer from the VAB to the launch pad can be considered a historic moment for SLS, whose development in the last ten years has been troubled to say the least, due to numerous delays and increasingly higher costs for its realization. The rocket was supposed to make its first flight in 2017, but the launch was gradually postponed due to technical problems, which had entailed additional costs.
On its top, SLS carries Orion, the transport capsule developed by NASA for manned deep space exploration.
In the fall of 2021, NASA speculated to carry out the inaugural launch in February of this year, but the plans were later revised. If all goes as planned, SLS will remain on the launch pad for several weeks: at the beginning of April, NASA will conduct a sort of dress rehearsal, in which technicians will simulate most of the procedures planned for launch day. Upon completion, the rocket will be taken back to the VAB for further testing, before being returned outside for its first launch, scheduled for the summer (the date has not yet been defined).
The inaugural mission, called Artemis I, will have no crew on board and will be used to test the launch system and the space capsule, in a journey around the Moon that will last between 4 and 6 weeks depending on the position of our natural satellite with respect to to Earth at launch.
If Artemis I is a success, NASA will proceed with the Artemis II mission, the first manned mission on board and which will make a voyage around the moon, but without making a moon landing. In the meantime, NASA will have to provide for the development of the missing parts of Orion, the new suits for the crew and verify that the development activities are proceeding for the following missions, which will require the use of a transport system from the lunar orbit to the Moon. .