NASA rolls Artemis 1 mobile launch tower off pad for repairs
The huge tower that supported the epic liftoff of NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission last month has left the launch pad.
During that November 16 takeoff, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) mega rocket left some marks on the 355-foot-tall (108 meter) mobile tower – blowing its elevator doors, for example, and damaging its crew access arm.
So NASA rolled the tower from Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and into the site’s Large Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for repairs. The 4-mile (6.4 kilometer) 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, crews interrupted roll operations several times as planned to ensure the operation took place during daylight hours,” NASA officials wrote in an update Friday (opens in new tab). “Focusing on transportation during daylight hours allowed better visibility of the operations and for crews to rest overnight.”
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Artemis 1 sent an unmanned Orion into lunar orbit. The capsule is now on its way back to Earth; it is expected to splash up in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula early Sunday afternoon (Dec. 11), ending the 25.5-day mission.
Artemis 2, expected 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 begin getting the large 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.
“After its stay in the VAB, it will go to the mobile launcher park at Kennedy, where it will undergo emergency exit modifications and testing to support future Artemis missions,” NASA officials wrote in Friday’s update.
“Emergency exit modifications” are thought to help Artemis astronauts get away from the SLS and Orion in the event of a serious pre-launch problem — something that wasn’t needed on the unmanned Artemis 1.
More crewed missions will follow Artemis 2, if all goes according to plan. Artemis 3 will land astronauts near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or 2026, and future flights will help establish a manned research base in the area.
NASA hopes to have the outpost operational by the end of the decade. The agency plans to use the lessons learned from the efforts of its Artemis program to 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).