NASA fully stacks the SLS rocket for the first time

Artemis I is finally within view as SLS nears completion. Wednesday, the Orion capsule was lifted onto the SLS rocket within the Vehicle Assembly Building.

On Wednesday, October 20, workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center lifted an Orion crew capsule onto the almost-mythical SLS rocket. SLS, or the Space Launch System, has been in development for over a decade and has been ridden with controversy ever since. The fully-stacked SLS rocket will launch an uncrewed Orion capsule into lunar orbit early next year for the Artemis I mission. 

Operations in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center began early Wednesday morning, with crews lifting the Orion capsule out of its holding area. Already attached to Orion, SLS’ important Launch Abort System was lifted with the capsule onto the massive rocket. The capsule was then slowly lowered down onto the Orion Stage Adapter, a mostly hollow section of the rocket that connects the booster to the capsule. Finally, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) crews fully connected Orion to the adapter a few hours later

This stacking is big news for the upcoming Artemis I mission, which will be the first launch of NASA’s SLS rocket. Slated for launch in January 2022, Artemis I will be an uncrewed mission that will send Orion on a journey to the Moon for a six-day retrograde orbit around it. The mission will effectively test SLS’ capabilities for future crewed flights, starting as soon as 2023 with Artemis II. If all goes to plan, Artemis II will be NASA’s first time sending humans back to the Moon since the Apollo program. Artemis III will include the first Lunar Landing since the Apollo program.

The Artemis program, driven primarily by SLS, aims to ultimately establish a lasting human presence on the lunar south pole, as well as a long-term space station in orbit around the Moon. NASA plans to land humans on the Moon sometime by 2024, although this is subject to change. Additionally, the first components of the space station, dubbed “Gateway,” will aim to launch in 2024 aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket.

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