REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - We got our first peek at a part of the SLS rocket that will make it possible for NASA to eventually go to Mars. With just a few exceptions, the piece was made, start to finish, in the Tennessee Valley.
The 30 foot, 10,000 pound hulk of aluminum may not look like much to the common man, but to the SLS team at Marshall Space Flight Center, it's practically a work of art.
"It’s taken probably 6-months from receiving the panels to getting them welded, to getting them to the stage it is behind me," explained Jon Street, NASA's Materials and Processes Branch Chief. “Challenging in that it’s the largest structure we’ve built since the Apollo era.”
Street said that because of its unique shape and size, it took some of NASA's brightest to turn this concept into creation.
"With some persistence and a lot of sharpening of pencils, we were able to come up with a technique in order to hold the two pieces and hold that center weld," Street explained.
It's been nearly 30-years since a rocket stage of this magnitude has been built out here.
“Probably since the Saturn days, and I’m not even certain during Saturn we built any pieces here at Marshall,” said Mindy Nettles, the SLS Project Manager.
Nettles said it was constructed here with help from local contractor Teledyne Brown, because of Marshall's superior welding shop.
"There is not another facility where we could have done constriction stir-welds for an article this big,” said Nettles.
The next step for this stage adapter is to be coated in heat-resistant foam.
“It’ll look like this, where it’s a nice yellow color. Then after it sits out in the sun, it’ll look like this burnt orange color," said Amy Buck, an SLS engineer.
Within the next year, the launch vehicle stage adapter will make the long journey, via river barge, to Cape Canaveral where NASA's masterpiece will start to take shape.
The stage adapter is one of several SLS rocket segments what will be constructed at MSFC.
NASA Administrators say they're spreading out some of this work to various NASA facilities to ensure the overall Mars mission stays on schedule.