Almost 50 years to the day, it was December 7, 1972, that NASA’s Apollo 17 mission launched on the last human mission to the Moon, NASA and its international partners, launched for the first time the rocket that will take humans back to the Moon.
Getting the massive Space Launch System (SLS) off the pad has been an exercise in patience, some head scratching, and has cost a whole lot of money. It is a new rocket after all, of sorts. It’s new in the sense that previously used technology for the Shuttle program had never flown in this configuration. Certainly the technology has been upgraded, but the main engines come from the Shuttle era, the side boosters as well. Is the SLS going to be America’s workhorse launch system? That’s unlikely, though it can’t disappear just yet. It’s part of a jobs program, spread widely across the United States. Will it eventually be replaced by a commercially built option? Yes.
But I digress. The early morning launch was the culmination of over a decade of work. And when the “red team” was dispatched to tighten a bolt to stem the flow of a small but persistent leak, you had to wonder if this was another launch attempt that would be scrubbed. But there was a sense, call it a feeling, that this time, after the rocket survived a hurricane and that finally the weather was really good, that the stars had aligned, and tonight was the night. And oh, it was. Some complained that for a first launch why go at night? It won’t be as spectacular. They we’re wrong. Even if you weren’t there in person you could almost feel the thunder of those engines, feel the heat as the rocket streaked through the sky. A sense of joy mixed with relief as orbit was achieved and the solar arrays deployed on the Orion capsule.
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