NASA marks key milestone in its Artemis I Moon mission

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft arrived at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad on Friday, bringing the system closer to launch.

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NASA's Moon rocket is on the move at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for a 4.2-mile journey to Launch Complex 39B on March 17, 2022.

NASA/Kim Shiflett

Early Friday morning, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft arrived at Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Now that the rocket and spacecraft are at the launchpad, they can undergo final testing before launching on the Artemis I unmanned mission around the Moon. 

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NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the Orion capsule atop, slowly makes its way down the crawlerway at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 17, 2022.

NASA/Kim Shiflett

Reaching the launch pad marked a key milestone for the Artemis I mission -- the first of three missions that will culminate with NASA landing the first woman and first person of color on the Moon. The Artemis mission, named after Apollo's twin sister, will help NASA establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. 

Friday's journey from NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad was just four miles -- but it took nearly 11 hours to move the 322-foot tall, 3.5-million-pound spacecraft and rocket. 

Now that they're at the launch pad, NASA will run through final tests in what's known as the wet dress rehearsal. The Artemis I launch team will load propellant into the rocket's tanks, conduct a full launch countdown, demonstrate the ability to recycle the countdown clock and drain the tanks to practice the timelines and procedures.

NASA will review data from the dress rehearsal before setting a specific target date for the actual Artemis I launch. 

Then, the rocket and spacecraft will roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building where teams will remove the sensors used during the rehearsal, charge system batteries, stow late-load cargo and run final checkouts. They'll roll back to the launch pad again about a week before launch.

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