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All systems go for rollout of NASA's Artemis 1 moon rocket this week

Teams retract two of 20 platforms around the Space Launch System rocket (left) and Orion spacecraft (close-up at right) for the Artemis 1 mission. Preparation is ongoing at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Teams retract two of 20 platforms around the Space Launch System rocket (left) and Orion spacecraft (close-up at right) for the Artemis 1 mission. Preparation is ongoing at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

The rollout for NASA's Artemis 1 mission is right on track for this Thursday (March 17), agency officials said today (March 14). 

In just a few days, NASA's immense Crawler-Transporter 2 vehicle will carry the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion spacecraft on a 4-mile (6.4 kilometers) journey to Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This rollout will deliver the rocket and Orion to the pad where they will prepare to launch on a moonbound mission, currently set for no earlier than May of this year.

"We are in in very good shape and ready to proceed with this roll," NASA Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson shared during a news conference today. "It's gonna be amazing."

Live Updates: NASA's latest Artemis 1 moon mission in action

Rolling out SLS and Orion to the pad is a critical step toward launch for the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission. As its name suggests, Artemis 1 is the first mission in NASA's Artemis program, which aims to land humans on the moon for the first time since the agency's Apollo program.

Rollout will begin at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Thursday with the crawler's first motion out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The rollout process will see the crawler take SLS and Orion on the 4-mile journey from the VAB to the launch pad. The journey is estimated to take a whopping 11 hours, Blackwell-Thompson shared during the news conference

The crawler will inch toward the pad at 0.8 mph (1.3 kph), close to the vehicle's maximum (loaded) pace of 1 mph (1.6 kph).

"If you ever see it up close, it's the most phenomenal thing I've ever seen," Tom Whitmeyer, the associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C., told during the news conference today, adding that the rollout will move not just the loaded crawler but also a mobile launcher out to the pad. "It is quite an incredible feat."

The crawler is over 50 years old. However, as Blackwell-Thompson told today, the vehicle has gone through significant upgrades in preparing to roll out SLS and Orion, and technicians have thoroughly tested the vehicle. 

Blackwell-Thompson added that, while there is inclement weather predicted for this Wednesday (March 16), the weather for rollout on Thursday still looks good. 

For those looking to join the action live, NASA will begin live coverage of rollout at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Thursday. The live coverage, which will include live commentary from guests including NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, will be live right here at or directly at NASA TV.

Preparing to launch

Once at the pad, the mission team will work toward conducting a final prelaunch test with the rocket and spacecraft known as a "wet dress rehearsal." During this test, mission team members will load propellant into the SLS megarocket and conduct a practice launch countdown. 

Mission team members shared today during the news conference that they are targeting April 3 for the wet dress rehearsal. At 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) on April 3, the mission team will begin the approximately 8-hour-long process of fueling up the SLS on the pad, Blackwell-Thompson said during the conference.

After the wet dress rehearsal, the mission team expects there will be about eight to nine days of testing and work before they can roll SLS and Orion back to the VAB, if all goes according to plan. 

Artemis 1 will see SLS launch the Orion craft on a roughly 26-day journey 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) out from Earth, thousands of miles past the moon and then back again to our home planet. The uncrewed mission will test SLS and Orion to ensure that they are capable of safely carrying humans to space and back in the future.

With the success of Artemis 1, NASA will work toward Artemis 2, which is tentatively set for 2024 and will send astronauts on a trip around the moon and back. These missions will all lead up to Artemis 3, set for no earlier than 2025, which will land astronauts on the moon for the first time since the last Apollo moon landing in 1972.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.