From Alabama to the Moon

The largest piece of structural test hardware for America’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System, was loaded into Test Stand 4693 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama Jan. 14, 2019. The liquid hydrogen tank is part of the rocket’s core stage that is more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, and stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines.  (Credits: NASA/Tyler Martin)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — The path to the Moon has run through Alabama since the earliest days of our nation’s space program. Today, work in the “Rocket City” Huntsville and across the state is advancing the largest rocket we’ve ever built and our Artemis Program to land humans on the Moon by 2024. At a recent visit with the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine demonstrated Alabama’s deep technical and economic contributions to our nation’s space program. A $1.6 million amendment above the President’s request of $21 billion for NASA’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget will accelerate our progress to the Moon and solidifies that the state’s importance to our exploration efforts.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville creates significant economic impact by supporting thousands of jobs and investing millions of dollars in research and development. It helps drive an innovation-based economy in Alabama and throughout the United States. The center generates contracts across nearly every category of manufacturing or service production. And NASA reaches all 67 Alabama counties through education, business, partnerships, and other innovative ways to engage the state with our ambitious national goals.

Much of the Marshall’s work is tied to the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will power human exploration of the Moon and a new generation of missions. SLS is America’s rocket, with men and women from almost every state working hard every day to move America forward to the Moon. And it’s also a critical part of Alabama’s legacy of mission-critical design, development and integration of the systems for space exploration and scientific missions.

Our plans to land humans on the lunar South Pole by 2024 build on Marshall’s expertise. The rocket scientists at Marshall designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the Moon. They also developed new rocket engines and tanks for the space shuttles, built sections of the International Space Station, and now manage all the astronauts’ science work aboard the station from a 24/7 Payload Operations and Integration Center.

NASA and its industry partners continue their steady progress toward launching the nation’s newest rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, are integrating components with the SLS launch vehicle stage adapter, which connects the core stage of the world’s most powerful rocket with its interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) that provides the power to send Orion to the Moon. (Credit: NASA)

SLS and the Orion spacecraft in which astronauts will travel to the Moon are the backbone of our sustainable deep space exploration systems. Among recent progress, the SLS team has recently:

  • Built and tested the SLS solid rocket boosters and the core stage rocket engines.
  • Moved the 66-foot-tall forward part of the rocket’s massive core stage. This helps prepare for its final assembly and integration to the liquid hydrogen tank.
  • Delivered the Pathfinder, a full-scale simulator of the rocket’s core stage. This is the same size, shape and weight of the massive real thing, and will help us learn to work with it.
  • Loaded a test version of the enormous liquid hydrogen tank that fuels the rocket’s RS-25 engines into a test stand at Marshall. There it will be exposed to simulated stresses of a space launch.
  • Outfitted the SLS launch vehicle stage adapter, which connects the core stage of the rocket with its interim cryogenic propulsion stage.

Astronauts will travel to the Gateway in lunar orbit for expeditions to the surface of the Moon. Marshall is supporting development of potential deep space habitation element for Phase 2 of the Gateway, which will help the agency establish sustainable missions on and around the Moon by 2028.

Marshall and Alabama have also played key roles in additive manufacturing or 3-D printing — from rocket engine development advances to 3-D printing on the station. This technology has revolutionized what we are able to do in space, where mass and space are big considerations.

Demonstrating Alabama’s importance to our space program, NASA has invested millions in local university programs and in contracts with businesses large and small. Marshall has more than 50 active Space Act Agreements with industry, academic, non-profit and other government agencies based in Alabama, including the University of Alabama System, Auburn University, Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, and the University of North Alabama in Florence.

Next generation STEM leaders from across the world also gain important experience through Marshall’s Student Launch and Rover Challenges.

Our presence in Alabama is leading to a human presence on the Moon. Throttle up!