With a brass band playing and a parade of workers sporting Mardi Gras beads, a huge component of a new rocket system was wheeled slowly from a New Orleans spacecraft factory on Wednesday to a barge that was to float it up the Mississippi River to a testing site.
The completed “core stage” of NASA’s Space Launch System, which dwarfed the hundreds of NASA and Boeing employees, was to be taken to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, about 80km northeast of New Orleans.
Space Launch System rockets are expected to eventually take astronauts to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
The core stage — which measures 65m from end to end and more than 8m in diameter — was transported like a giant carnival float from the Michoud Assembly Center in eastern New Orleans to the barge as workers took pictures.
It is to undergo tests at Stennis ahead of the first Artemis launch, planned for 2021, said Tony Castilleja, a systems engineer with the Boeing Space Team.
The core stage, with four huge engines, is the largest rocket stage NASA has assembled since the Apollo stages that first powered crewed missions to the moon.
It is to be used for Artemis I, a test flight without a crew.
Artemis II is to send up a crewed spacecraft. The Artemis III mission would put a man and woman on the south pole of the moon, with an eye toward a continued presence that would lead eventually to a trip to Mars.
Terry Teal, a NASA employee for 30 years, was among the first sent from Houston to New Orleans to begin work on the Space Launch System rocket eight years ago. He brought his wife and stepdaughter to witness the rollout.
He said it is an exciting time for those who worked on the rocket and the family members who supported them.
The core stage is the spine of the Space Launch System rocket. Its four RS-25 engines are expected to produce 8.9 million Newtons of thrust. The liquid-hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank hold 2.8 million liters of propellant.
In addition to the tanks, the core stage is to house the vehicle’s avionics system, including the flight computers, the vehicle navigation system and the main propulsion system, which feeds propellant to the engines.
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