NASA’s Artemis I mega lunar rocket arrives at the launch pad before liftoff

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Engineers and technicians were busy with final checks and tests of the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket stack made a few trips to the launch pad in March and June for the wet dress rehearsal, a test that simulated every stage of the launch without liftoff.

On Tuesday evening, the real event began.

The Artemis team is targeting its first two-hour launch window from 8:33 a.m. ET to 10:33 a.m. ET on Monday, August 29. There are backup launch windows on September 2 and September 5.

The massive 322-foot-tall (98-meter-tall) pile embarked on a slow 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) journey aboard one of NASA’s Apollo-era giant robots, from the assembly building to the launch pad – just as the shuttle missions and the Apollo Saturn V rockets have already done.

The 6.6 million pound (3 million kilogram) robot carried the massive rocket stack and its mobile launcher at a top speed of 1 mile per hour (1.6 kilometers per hour). The stack of rockets arrived on the launch pad at 7:30 a.m. ET Wednesday morning after a nearly 10-hour journey.

The iconic robot is one of two that have operated for more than 50 years at Kennedy Space Center. The massive carriers first entered service in 1965 and can each carry 18 million pounds (8.2 million kilograms), the weight of more than 20 fully loaded 777 jets, according to NASA. The tracks are so wide that a pro baseball field could sit on each one.

Now that the rocket stack has arrived, engineers and technicians will prepare the rocket systems for launch.

The uncrewed Artemis that I will launch on a mission that will go beyond the moon and back to Earth. Once launched, the spacecraft will reach a deep retrograde orbit around the moon, traveling 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers) in 42 days. Artemis I will dive in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on October 10. Orion’s return will be faster and hotter than any spacecraft has ever experienced on its way back to Earth.

The Orion spacecraft will travel further than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown, reaching 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) beyond the far side of the moon, according to NASA.

There are no humans on board, but Orion will carry 120 pounds (54.4 kilograms) of memorabilia, including toys, Apollo 11 artifacts and three mannequins.

Sitting in Orion’s commander’s seat will be Commander Moonikin Campos, an adapted dummy who can collect data on what future human crews might experience while traveling on the moon. The model will wear the new Orion Crew Survival System suit designed for astronauts during launch and re-entry. The suit has two radiation sensors.

Two “ghosts” named Helga and Zohar will ride in other Orion seats. These mannequin torsos are made of materials that mimic a woman’s soft tissues, organs and bones. Both torsos have more than 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors to measure the amount of radiation exposure during spaceflight.

This mission will launch NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon and land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface by 2025 – and eventually make way for exploration human from Mars.

Artemis I will also perform a number of science experiments, some of which will be set up once the rocket and spacecraft arrive at the launch pad.

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