Artemis I arrives at LC-39B ahead of its planned launch date of August 29

Artemis I at launch pad

Isn’t that a nice headline to finally write? Artemis I (knock on wood) took its final rollout from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39B. With less than two weeks until the launch date, the feeling is real that it might happen.

This is the Space Launch System’s (the rocket behind the Artemis I name) third trip to LC-39B. The journey started inside Highbay 3 where one of NASA Crawler Transporters, built in 1965 for the Apollo program, begins to raise the SLS rocket and launch platform off its supports. Then begins the slow and methodical 10-hour rollout to LC-39B along the iconic Crawlerway, a path of Tennessee river rocks explicitly designed for the Crawlers.

Now that the Artemis I rocket is at the launch pad, teams will begin to prepare the rocket and the surrounding pad for launch. Propellent lines will need to be connected to the mobile launch pad with its tower, and of course, test after test after test will most likely be completed. NASA teams have already conducted many of these operations before and refined them during the agency’s two wet dress rehearsal attempts earlier this year.

Artemis I rolling out of VAB at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Photos: Derek Wise and Jared Locke for Space Explored

This rollout marks the beginning of launch operations for Artemis I and the first flight of NASA’s SLS rocket. This mission will be uncrewed and is meant to certify both the rocket and Orion spacecraft for human flight on Artemis II in 2024. Artemis I will fly out to the Moon, enter its orbit, then return. This mission could take as long as 26-42 days, depending on when it launches. Right now, Artemis I is set to launch on August 29 at 8:33 a.m. and would last for 42 days.

The importance of this mission to the agency cannot be understated. While NASA continues to address this mission as a test, something they like to do in order to brush off any failures, the cost of this launch is estimated at $4.1 billion. Furthermore, it was estimated that NASA has spent nearly $11 billion on the development of the SLS rocket and $9.3 billion on Orion’s development. So the stakes are high for NASA to ensure that this mission is a success, otherwise there will be a lot of eyes looking into what went wrong.

Artemis I rollout marks the beginning of a long awaited moment

It feels like it has been decades of waiting for SLS’s debut launch… well, actually, it has (SLS is derived from Ares V of President Bush’s Constellation program). Now that we are here, it feels surreal, like this isn’t supposed to be happening, but it actually is! The road to launch is still a long one, however, and Artemis I’s final launch attempt of this window is on September 5th. If NASA cannot launch Artemis I by then it will have to roll back to the VAB and then do another rollout for a new launch window.

Hopefully, that won’t happen. But if it does, so is the way of spaceflight, and we will get to have this Artemis launch hype feeling all over again until we have to wait until 2024 for the program’s next launch.

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