NASA’s Space Launch System Moves One Step Closer to First Launch

The SLS has returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building for minor repairs, preparing to go to space late next month.

The rocket’s next trip to the launch pad is expected to be its final stop before Artemis I begins an uncrewed mission around the moon and back. [Courtesy: NASA]

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Artemis I rocket is back inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to undergo “additional checkouts and activities” in  preparation for its journey to the moon, expected as soon as next month.

The rollback of the enormous rocket to the VAB on Saturday followed a second wet dress rehearsal on Launch Pad 39B, where engineers found a faulty seal on the quick disconnect for an umbilical cord that runs between the tail service mast and the rocket’s core stage.

“We have completed the rehearsal phase, and everything we’ve learned will help improve our ability to lift off during the target launch window,” said Tom Whitmeyer, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems. “The team is now ready to take the next step and prepare for launch.” 

Transporting the rocket the 4 miles between 39B and the VAB has proven to be a tedious process. The 322-foot-tall rocket rides atop the massive Crawler transporter, which only travels 1 mile per hour. The SLS has made more trips between the launch pad and the VAB than originally anticipated, due to several issues found during wet dress rehearsal attempts.

Now that the rehearsal campaign is complete, the rocket’s next trip to the launch pad is expected to be its final stop before Artemis I begins an uncrewed mission around the moon and back. 

NASA’s Next-Generation Spacesuits

In a video posted Tuesday, NASA detailed the challenges astronauts have faced inside their spacesuits, and how they intend to overcome them.

The agency planned to produce two flight-ready next-gen spacesuits by November 2024, but the process is in the midst of a 20-month delay due to technical challenges and complications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible. That said, NASA’s inability to complete development of xEMUs for a 2024 Moon landing is by no means the only factor impacting the viability of the Agency’s current return-to-the-Moon timetable,” NASA said in an Inspector General audit.

Currently, NASA’s spacesuits are based on a design that debuted in 1981 on the STS-005 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The current design is not too far removed from the one used during the Apollo missions, which had multiple issues.

For example, the Apollo astronauts found that it was easier to hop around on the lunar surface than to walk. Unable to kneel in the suit, Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke fell face-first into the ground while attempting to plant a penetrometer.

A reduced range of mobility can become deadly for astronauts in the vacuum of space, so teams at NASA have been working to address the issue in its next-generation designs. Last month, the agency announced the spacesuits, dubbed xEMU, will be used throughout the Artemis missions to the moon and Mars.

Each design comes equipped with a Portable Life Support System (PLSS), which provides astronauts with not only breathable oxygen, but an entirely pressurized environment inside the suit.

The backpack-style apparatus typically isn’t found on more streamlined spacesuits, such as those made by SpaceX, as a result of different intended uses for the suits. NASA’s spacesuits are rated for spacewalks outside of a pressurized vehicle, while others are not.

Jeremy attained his bachelor's in journalism and emerging media from Kennesaw State University. He also served in the Georgia Air National Guard as a C-130 Crew Chief for six years, holding an associate in aircraft maintenance technology.

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