NASA's megarocket core replica will help KSC prepare for moon launch

To launch humans back to moon, NASA crews learn to work with a really big rocket

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – A key piece of hardware that will help Kennedy Space Center practice launching astronauts to the moon arrived at the space center this weekend.

Crews began offloading NASA’s Space Launch System rocket core stage pathfinder Monday morning near the Vehicle Assembly Building. At 212 feet tall, the Pathfinder is the same shape, size and weight, without fuel, as the SLS rocket core stage.

The mock hardware traveled to KSC via the Pegasus barge, docking in the tidal basin near the Vehicle Assembly Building Friday.

The pathfinder will help teams at Kennedy Space Center prepare for the first launch of the SLS and the Orion spacecraft, known as Artemis I. Work crews can practice handling and lifting the huge booster in the Vehicle Assembly Building where the SLS hardware will be stacked.

Alan Murphy, of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, traveled on the barge during its weeklong voyage from the Gulf of Mexico.

"This is what it's all about. We're going back to the moon. We're going to Mars. (There is) a lot of excitement. (It's) one more step but a big step," Murphy said.

A similar dry run was conducted in August with the Pathfinder at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, where the SLS is undergoing testing. Watch a time lapse of the lift-and-install exercise below:

Crews lifted and installed the booster replica onto the B-2 Test Stand, the same test stand where the SLS core stage will undergo testing next year.

“Practicing operations with pathfinders offers teams hands-on experience for managing and handling the immense structures before this one-of-a-kind flight hardware arrives,” said Barry Robinson, B-2 Test Stand core stage test project manager at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Pathfinder's arrival also helps crews prepare for the first Artemis mission, because the same transportation methods will be used to get the hardware to KSC in the months ahead of launch.
When fully stacked with Orion, the SLS Artemis I will be 322 feet tall.

“NASA’s first Artemis mission flight hardware has progressed into final assembly and integration, moving well beyond the early design and manufacturing stages of development,” NASA Pathfinder lead Mark Prill said. “Flight hardware for both the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft will continue to be delivered to Kennedy as NASA prepares for the launch of Artemis I.”

Meanwhile, on Sept. 19 crews at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans were working on the real flight hardware, connecting the last of the five sections of the SLS rocket core stage.

Work with pathfinder and continued work on SLS are all steps in NASA’s plan to return humans to the moon by 2024 under the Artemis program.

"It's a crawl, walk, run sequence we're going through. We're doing the best we can to make sure we have everything diligently taken care of before the actual core stage 1 arrives," Prill said.

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