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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (WHNT) – NASA is ready for the debut of the agency’s moon rocket which will eventually take humans back to the moon for the first time in over 50 years. First, teams need to finish testing the uncrewed Artemis I rocket.

The Space Launch System (SLS) has finished all tests inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center and is almost ready to be rolled out to Launch Pad 39B for its final major test, the rollout and wet dress rehearsal.

Several NASA and Artemis Program officials were on hand to provide an update on the progress of this final test phase, including:

  • Tom Whitmeyer, associate administrator for exploration systems development, NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, NASA Headquarters
  • Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch director, NASA Exploration Ground Systems program, Kennedy
  • John Honeycutt, manager, Space Launch System program, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama
  • Howard Hu, manager, Orion program, Johnson Space Center in Houston

Teams continue to retract work platforms around the rocket and Crawler Transport-2 will soon be in place to carry the SLS to the pad. The rocket will leave the VAB starting March 17, traveling at a top speed of just one mile per hour.

Blackwell-Thompson explained what will happen after the Artemis I rocket makes the four-mile journey, which is expected to take about 11 hours with planned starts and stops along the way.

“We do get into our booster servicing ops. We’ll do our servicing of the boosters and we’ll load the hydrogen there. Then we’ll get into our wet dress preps and then we will get into our wet dress itself which will run about two days,” she explained. “It will follow closely what we will do for our launch countdown. Of course, there will be some other local things in there that will get shoved in as well but those are some of the things that precede wet dress.”

Blackwell-Thompson said if the rollout happens on schedule then the wet dress will happen between April 1-3, with the whole team going through a full launch countdown except for the actual launch. This includes servicing the solid rocket boosters and fully fueling the tanks inside the 216-foot core stage.

After the wet dress is completed, the team will take about eight days to drain the fuel, service the boosters and make sure everything is safe with the rocket before rolling it back to the VAB. Data from the test will then be examined.

Depending on how the test goes, a launch date for Artemis I will be set for later this year with the goal for Artemis II to launch the first crewed mission on an SLS rocket in 2024.

Blackwell-Thompson told her team as they wrapped up a pre-test on Monday, “Take a moment. Take a moment in these days, take a moment on Thursday and appreciate where you are and appreciate this moment. Because being a first doesn’t happen come along that often.”

The upcoming Artemis I mission is full of nods to the past. The four RS-25 engines launching Artemis I were used on previous Space Shuttle missions, Apollo 10 launched from Launch Pad 39B in 1969 to rehearse the first Moon landing mission and the launch crew will use the same fire room as the launch crew for the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.

Live coverage of the rocket’s rollout will start Thursday at 4 p.m., NASA will have a live feed available to watch the progress.