NASA’s Space Launch System rocket begins to crawl towards the launch pad ahead of the test flight around the moon

NASA’s gigantic Space Launch System lunar rocket, topped by an uncrewed astronaut capsule, began an hour-long exploration to its launch pad this week ahead of its first test flight.

The 322-foot (98-meter) tall rocket is set to embark on its first mission into space, unattended, on August 29.

It will be a crucial and long-delayed demonstration trip to the Moon for NASA’s Artemis program, the United States’ multi-billion dollar effort to get humans back to the lunar surface as a practice for future Mars missions.

The Space Launch System, whose development for the past decade has been led by Boeing, rolled out of its assembly building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida around noon today (AEST) and began a six-kilometre hike to its launch pad.

NASA’s next-generation moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with its Orion crew capsule perched atop, departs the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for a slow-motion journey to its launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA on August 16, 2022. (Reuters: Steve Nesius )

Moving at less than 1.6 kilometers per hour, its transit will take around 11 hours.

Atop the rocket will be NASA’s Orion astronaut capsule, built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

The capsule was designed to separate from the rocket in space, transport humans to the moon and join a separate spacecraft that would take astronauts to the lunar surface.

For the August 29 mission, called Artemis 1, the Orion capsule will remain empty on the Space Launch System as it orbits the moon.

The rocket is expected to return to Earth for ocean immersion 42 days later.

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If poor launch weather or a minor technical issue triggers a delay, NASA has backup launch dates of September 2 and September 5.

ABC/Reuters

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