NASA’s Artemis I giant moon rocket arrives at the launch pad before takeoff

Engineers and technicians were busy with checkout and final testing of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft inside the vehicle assembly building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rocket pile made two trips to the launch pad in March and June for rehearsal, a test that simulates each step of the launch without taking off.

Tuesday night, 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 (98-meter)-high mound embarked on a slow, 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) journey aboard one of NASA’s giant Apollo-era crawlers from the assembly building to the launch pad—just like the shuttle missions and Apollo Saturn V rockets once did.

The 6.6-million-pound (3 million-kilogram) crawler carried the towering missile stack and mobile launcher at a top speed of 1 mph (1.6 kph). The stack of rockets reached the launch pad at 7:30 a.m. ET Wednesday after a nearly 10-hour flight.

The iconic crawler is one of two that have been in operation for more than 50 years at the Kennedy Space Center. The mega-carriers were first used in 1965 and can each carry 18 million pounds (8.2 million kilograms), or the weight of more than 20 fully loaded 777s, according to NASA. The creepers are so wide that a professional baseball diamond can sit on top of each one.

Now that the missile pile has arrived, engineers and technicians will prepare the missile systems for launch.

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I will launch the unmanned Artemis I on a mission beyond the Moon and back to Earth. Once launched, the spacecraft will reach a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon, traveling 1.3 million miles (2.1 million km) over a 42-day period. Artemis I will fall into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on October 10. Orion’s return will be faster and hotter than any spacecraft seen on its way back to Earth.

The Orion spacecraft will travel farther than any spacecraft ever designed for humans, 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 items and three statues.

At the headquarters of Orion’s commander will be Commander Monnequin Campos, a proper mannequin who can gather data on what the human crew may encounter in the future on a trip to the Moon. The model will wear the new Orion Crew Survival System suit designed for astronauts to wear during launch and return. The suit has two radiation sensors.

Two “Ghost” named Helga and Zohar will ride in Orion’s other seats. This model torso is made of materials that simulate the soft tissues, organs and bones of a woman. The torsos contain more than 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors to measure the amount of radiation exposure that occurs 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 people of color on the moon by 2025 — and eventually make way for human exploration of Mars.

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Artemis I will also carry a number of science experiments, some of which will be installed once the rocket and spacecraft reach the launch pad.

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