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NASA prepares to roll out giant Artemis moon rocket

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NASA prepares to roll out giant Artemis moon rocket
NASA's SLS moon rocket is prepared for its first roll out to the pad at Kennedy Space Center on March 17. Photo courtesy of NASA

March 14 (UPI) -- After years of delay, NASA plans to roll its massive new SLS moon rocket out of the historic Vehicle Assembly Building and onto its launch pad for the first time Thursday.

The rollout will be the first time a NASA rocket so large -- 322 feet tall -- has moved to a launch pad since Apollo 17's Saturn V rocket did so before launching astronauts to the moon in 1972.

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Space shuttles also made the same roll from the VAB to the launch pad from 1981 to 2011, but the new moon rocket will tower above the shuttle height, which was 184 feet when stacked on its large exterior fuel tank.

Thursday's events are part of a long lead-up to an uncrewed launch to a lunar orbit planned for no earlier than May. A rehearsal with complete fueling of the rocket is planned on April 3, launch officials said in a press conference on Monday.

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"We are in very good shape and ready to proceed in this roll on Thursday," Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said during the press conference. "It's going to be just a wonderful, wonderful sight when we see that amazing Artemis vehicle cross the threshold of the VAB and we see it outside of that building for the very first time."

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The rocket and Orion capsule will roll slowly to Launch Complex 39B, about four miles away. The space agency expects the journey to begin around 5 p.m. EDT Thursday and last for over six hours. The rocket moves at less than 1 mph.

SLS is "a highly complicated vehicle and very complicated machine" so an exact launch date will only be determined once the tests are complete, Tom Whitmeyer, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems development, said.

The Artemis I mission is to fly further past the moon than any spacecraft designed for humans in history.

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NASA plans live coverage of the rollout beginning around 5 p.m. EDT on Thursday, including remarks from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and other guests.

Out-of-this-world images from space

The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA

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