NASA rolls Artemis 1's huge launch tower off pad for repairs, upgrades (photos)

A view from inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 9, 2022, as the mobile launcher approaches, carried atop the crawler-transporter 2 vehicle..
A view from inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 9, 2022, as the mobile launcher approaches, carried atop the crawler-transporter 2 vehicle.. (Image credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

The huge tower that supported the epic liftoff of NASA's Artemis 1 moon mission last month has left the launch pad.

During that Nov. 16 liftoff, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket left some marks on the 355-foot-tall (108 meters) mobile tower — blowing off its elevator doors, for example, and damaging its crew access arm.

So NASA has rolled the tower off Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and into the site's huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for repairs. The 4-mile (6.4 kilometers) move began early Thursday morning (Dec. 8) and ended about 29 hours later, at 11:26 a.m. EST (1626 GMT) on Friday (Dec. 9).

"During the return [to the VAB] aboard the crawler transporter, teams paused the roll operations several times as planned to ensure the operation occurred during daylight hours," NASA officials wrote in an update on Friday (opens in new tab). "Focusing on transporting during daylight hours allowed for better visibility on the operations and for teams to rest overnight."

In photos: Artemis 1 launch: Amazing views of NASA's moon rocket debut 
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The Artemis 1 mobile launch tower approaches the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 9, 2022.

The Artemis 1 mobile launch tower approaches the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 9, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Isaac Watson)

Artemis 1 sent an uncrewed Orion to lunar orbit. The capsule is now on its way back to Earth; it's expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean, off Mexico's Baja peninsula, early Sunday afternoon (Dec. 11), wrapping up the 25.5-day mission.

Artemis 2, which is scheduled to lift off in 2024, will send astronauts around the moon aboard Orion. During the launch tower's stay in the VAB, which is expected to last several weeks, technicians will start getting the huge structure ready for that crewed mission.

That work will include upgrades as well as repair and maintenance, NASA officials said. And these efforts will continue after the tower rolls out of the VAB.

"Following its stay in the VAB, it will go to the mobile launcher park site location at Kennedy where it will undergo emergency egress modifications and testing to support future Artemis missions," NASA officials wrote in Friday's update.

"Emergency egress modifications" presumably will help Artemis astronauts get away from the SLS and Orion in the event of a serious prelaunch problem — something that was not needed on the uncrewed Artemis 1.

More crewed missions will follow Artemis 2, if all goes according to plan. Artemis 3 will put astronauts down near the moon's south pole in 2025 or 2026, and future flights will help establish a crewed research base in the area.

NASA hopes that outpost is operational by the end of the decade. The agency plans to use the lessons learned from the efforts of its Artemis program to help send astronauts to Mars, something it aims to do by the late 2030s or early 2040s.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • billslugg
    I drove down from PA to the Cape in 1981 for the first Shuttle launch. On my way down route 1 from St Petersburg I was about 30 miles from the VAB when I first saw it. I though, "OH, there it is just a few miles down the road." but I thought I would never get there, it just kept getting bigger. And I mean really big. The thing is huge. 500 feet tall, 500 feet wide and 700 feet long.
    Reply