NASA’s mega moon rocket fitted with Orion capsule for the first time

This shot captures the action as Orion was lowered onto SLS on Oct. 20.

NASA/Frank Michaux

What a glorious beast. The most powerful rocket NASA has ever built is now standing tall with an Orion spacecraft on top, and the views NASA shared this week are spectacular.

The Space Launch System, aka SLS, rocket and Orion are going to be best buds for the launch of the Artemis I mission, an uncrewed trip around the moon and back. The rocket and spacecraft system have come together like a giant Lego tower inside the spacious Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It can be challenging to comprehend the sheer scale of SLS and Orion. NASA says the configuration stands at 322 feet (98 meters) tall, making it taller than the Statue of Liberty.  

Kennedy Space Center shared an update on Thursday with an epic video sweeping up from the bottom of the rocket all the way to the spacecraft on top. “Work is currently underway to fully secure the spacecraft to the rocket,” NASA tweeted.

A longer version of the video shows the careful choreography it took to lift Orion and slowly lower it to meet SLS.

We had previously seen SLS standing up with its boosters added in June, and then got fresh images in September, but it was still lacking the Orion component at that time. The process of adding Orion started in the early morning hours on Wednesday with lifting the spacecraft into place with an overhead crane. 

This view inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center shows the Orion spacecraft being lifted toward the SLS rocket.

Chad Siwik

Fans of big rockets can pore over NASA’s Artemis I lift-and-mate photo album, which shows the process of moving Orion into place.

The space agency had been targeting a November launch for Artemis I, but that could easily slip into 2022. The mission is designed to test SLS and the performance of the Orion spacecraft before humans take a ride for the Artemis II mission.  

A successful Artemis I mission would be a major milestone toward returning humans to the moon. NASA had been talking up a 2024 date for a moon landing (with Artemis III), but that’s likely to get pushed back. Before astronaut feet hit the lunar surface, NASA will need to prove all of its equipment is working well. That’s the big promise that Artemis I holds.

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