NASA engineers have assembled the first of their powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rockets, which will take astronauts to the moon this decade. Researchers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida have completed the descent of a 65-meter-high main stage between two small launch vehicles.
This is the first time all three key elements of a rocket are put together in a launch configuration. NASA plans to launch SLS on its maiden flight later this year.
During the flight Artemis-1, SLS will deliver Orion, a new generation of American crew, to the Moon. However, there will be no astronauts on board: the engineers want to test the strength of the rocket and the spacecraft before people go to the moon in 2023.
The SLS consists of a giant main stage that houses the fuel tanks and four powerful engines. Along its edges are two 54m solid rocket boosters (SRBs). They provide most of the thrust that lifts the SLS off the ground in the first two minutes of flight. Both the main step and the SRB are taller than the Statue of Liberty.
On Friday and Saturday, Kennedy Space Center teams used a heavy crane to first raise the main stage, move it from horizontal to vertical, and then lower it into place between SRBs on a structure called a mobile launcher.