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Rocket rollout: How NASA's first Artemis Space Launch System move stacks up against Saturn V

March 17, 2022

— "It was a sight unseen before by mankind."

That was how NASA described the first rollout of a Saturn V rocket 56 years ago. Were it still in print today, the space agency's "Spaceport News" might use that lede again — this time for the first Space Launch System (SLS) booster following in the tracks of its Apollo predecessor.

On Thursday evening (March 17), the Artemis I SLS emerged from the same Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the first Saturn V exited on May 25, 1966. Standing close in size and riding atop crawler transporters built for the Apollo program, both the SLS and earlier Saturn V each represented a new effort to send humans to the moon, though neither of the inaugural vehicles were built to achieve that goal.

The first Saturn V, designated 500-F, was a mockup assembled to test ground facilities. Its first stage had only one mock engine out of the five that would power the later moon-bound rockets. The vehicle was able to be loaded with propellants, however, and that fueling was demonstrated as 500-F stood on Pad 39A.

Similarly, the Artemis I SLS was making the overnight journey to Pad 39B for a "wet" dress rehearsal, including being fueled and put through a full countdown (minus the liftoff). Unlike 500-F, though, the first SLS will not be retired afterward. It will return to the VAB to be studied and serviced so it can launch the Artemis I mission, sending an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a three-week trip around the moon and back.

"Every generation has its moment. This is going to be an incredible moment for this generation," Tom Whitmeyer, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems development, said in a call with reporters. "In this business, you get used to a certain size and scale. I think we were pretty well tuned to that during the shuttle program. But every time I see this vehicle, it just catches your breath."

Completed early Friday morning (March 18), the first SLS rollout came 11 years, 5 months and 6 days since President Barack Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which directed the agency to build the heavy-lift rocket. By comparison, the first Saturn V was rolled out five years to the day after President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to "commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."


First SLS rollout to launchpad. Click to enlarge video in a new pop-up window. (NASA)

Here is a look at how the first rollouts of the Apollo Saturn V and Artemis Space Launch System (SLS) rockets further compared.

 
Apollo Saturn V
 
Artemis Space Launch System (SLS)
Vehicle / Mission
 

500-F / facility verification

 

Block 1 / Artemis I

Rollout date
 

May 25, 1966

 

March 17-18, 2022

Departure
 

Vehicle Assembly Building
(VAB), High Bay 1

 

Vehicle Assembly Building
(VAB), High Bay 3

Destination
 

Pad 39A

 
Mobile Launcher
 

ML-1 (later MLP-3)

 
Crawler-Transporter
 

No. 1

 

No. 2

Weight atop crawler

(including ML)

 

12.3 million pounds
(5.6 million kilograms)

 

14.8 million pounds
(6.7 million kilograms)

Vehicle height
 

363 feet (111 meters)
(ML: 445 ft or 136 m)

 

322.4 feet (98.3 meters)
(ML: 370 ft or 113 m)

Distance traveled
 

3.5 miles (5.6 km)

 

4.2 miles (6.8 km)

Maximum speed
 

1 mile per hour
(1.6 kilometers per hour)

 

0.8 miles per hour
(1.3 kilometers per hour)

First motion
 

10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT)

 

5:47 p.m. EDT (2147 GMT)

Arrival at pad
 

~7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT)

 

~1:30 a.m. EDT (0530 GMT)

Hard down on pad
 

~9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT)

 

~4:15 a.m. EDT (0830 GMT)

Total time in motion
 

~9 hours

 

~11 hours

Wet dress rehearsal
 

Oct. 12, 1966 (complete
automatic liquid oxygen
and liquid hydrogen [LOX
and LH2] loading)

 

April 3, 2022 (scheduled);
loading propellant tanks and
practice launch countdown

Stacking history
Mobile Launcher
rolled into VAB
 

Jan. 28, 1966

 

Dec. 20, 2019

First element
stacked on ML
 

March 15, 1966
SI-C-F

 

Nov. 21, 2020
first of 10 segments for
solid rocket boosters

Vehicle assembly
 

First stage: SI-C-F
Second stage: S-II-F
Third stage: S-IVB-F
Instrument Unit: S-IU-500F

Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter mockup

M-11 Command and Service Module model

Launch Escape System

 

Twin five-segment solid
rocket boosters

Core stage

Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA)

Orion Stage Adapter (OSA)
European Service Module
Orion spacecraft
Launch Abort System

Stacking complete
 

May 2, 1966

 
Total days to stack
 

48

 

335



 


NASA's first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket emerges from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, March 17, 2022. The rollout to the launchpad was in preparation for a wet dress rehearsal before the vehicle lifts off on the Artemis I mission around the moon. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)




The first Apollo Saturn V, the 500-F facilities demonstrator, rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first time on May 25, 1966. (NASA)




The Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) is seen atop an Apollo-era crawler transporter and new mobile launcher on its first rollout to the launchpad on March 17, 2022. (collectSPACE)




The Apollo Saturn V 500-F facilities demonstrator is seen from the air departing the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for the launchpad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA)



NASA's Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) is moved for the first time to the launchpad after departing the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB, at left) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, March 17, 2022. (collectSPACE)



The first Apollo Saturn V rocket, the 500-F facilities demonstrator, exits the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on its first rollout to the launchpad, May 25, 1966. (NASA)



The Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) heads toward a practice launch countdown on its first rollout to the pad on March 17, 2022. (collectSPACE)



Apollo Saturn V 500-F stands atop Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to undergo propellant loading tests in 1966.(NASA)



The Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) stands atop Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 18, 2022. (collectSPACE)

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