Like a giant float for Mardi Gras, a massive part of a new NASA rocket system was wheeled from a New Orleans spacecraft factory on Wednesday to a barge that will float it up the Mississippi River for testing.
The recently completed core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which measures 212 feet from end to end and more than 27 feet in diameter, was to be taken to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, about 50 miles northeast of New Orleans, The Associated Press reported.
Space Launch System rockets are expected to eventually take astronauts to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
The core stage was transported from the Michoud Assembly Center in eastern New Orleans to the barge.
It will undergo tests at Stennis ahead of the first Artemis launch, currently planned for 2021, according to Tony Castilleja, a systems engineer with the Boeing Space Team.
The SLS core stage, with four huge engines, is the largest rocket stage NASA has assembled since the Apollo stages that first powered crewed missions to the Moon.
It will be used for Artemis I, a test flight without a crew.
Artemis II is planned to send up a crewed spacecraft.
The third mission, Artemis III, would put a man and woman on the south pole of the moon, with an eye toward a continued presence that would lead eventually to a trip to Mars.
The core stage is the spine of the SLS rocket.
Its' four RS-25 engines will produce 2 million pounds of thrust. The liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank hold 733,000 gallons of propellant.
In addition to the tanks, the core stage houses the vehicle’s avionics system, including the flight computers, the vehicle navigation system and the main propulsion system, which feeds propellant to the engines.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.