NASA holds “Topping Out” ceremony for SLS test stand

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REDSTONE ARSENAL (WHNT) - Since 2014, construction crews have been working on a giant outdoor test stand for the SLS Rocket. Tuesday, they celebrated a major milestone, the "Topping Out" ceremony.

17 feet of concrete, 830 tons of structural steel, and 703 welds hold together this giant test stand.  “This stand will allow us to test liquid hydrogen gas tank for the most powerful rocket that man has ever built," says Bob Devlin, the NASA Deputy Center Operations Director.

The celebration may have been hosted by NASA, but it was really for the workers, who were bursting with pride in their work and for being a part of history.  “If you guys didn’t hang off steel 200 feet in the air, laying down miles of welds, this program still doesn’t exist so you’re every bit as important as anyone else in this program," says Phil Hendricks, the project manager.

The final steel beam, tattooed with signatures of those who made it possible, was lifted and put into place. Kevin Ingles of LRC Welders said,  “It’s to acknowledge the hard work it takes and getting to the top, the highest point usually of a building. That final top piece, it’s a huge accomplishment for these men."

Chief Contractor Michael Tuggle said working on this project was the chance of a lifetime. For Buddy Clark, mark him down for two. As just an 18 year old, he worked as a carpenter on the Saturn Rocket Test Stand. “Didn’t know at the time I’d be coming back around how ever many years later," says Buddy.

Now at the age of 72, he's the Superintendent for the project's main contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie.  “It’s very hard to believe, also feel very blessed," he says.

He's a man of few words, but says it's obvious why space exploration is so important. “It’s our future," he says.

Workers prepare indoor test facility

Over the last few months, building 4619 has been refitted to test the core stage and engine portion of the rocket. It was built in 1962 and used to test Apollo, Saturn, Shuttle, and International Space Center missions.  “It’s a large reaction structure that means we can install hydraulic cylinders and use the structure to press the vehicle or the structural test events that we’re using to simulate the vehicle to simulate the launch, pre-launch, and post-launch," says Mike Lau, a structural test engineer for SLS.

In layman's terms, they'll be putting two to three million pounds of pressure on each weld and connection, not only to to see how much the stage can stand, but where it's breaking point will be.  “We’re actually going to break every single one of them to see what the loads are it takes to break it," says Tim Flores, the Core Stage Integration Manager for SLS.

While computer models may show these engineers a lot about what the SLS will do in space flight, there's something to be said about actually putting it to the test. “A lot of times we find out that the tests may tell us something different than the computers are telling us," says Lau.

The parts they're testing will begin arriving to Marshall Space Flight Center this Fall. Engineers will then have to build additional structures around those parts, so the actual testing is still many months away.