Experiencing “Roll to Pad” for the biggest rocket in the world: NASA’s Space Launch System in Cape Canaveral, Florida

I recently had one of those “how is this my life” kind of moments.

You might remember that a few months ago, I got to see the biggest rocket in the world, the Space Launch System (SLS) shortly after it completed its full assembly at NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in Kennedy Space Center. That was such an incredible experience and a few weeks after that, I got to go EVEN CLOSER to the rocket when my company filmed with the rocket in preparation of its next great milestone: Roll to Pad.

In front of the SLS
With the Orion spacecraft

The “Roll to Pad” event is the rollout of the SLS from the VAB to Launchpad 39B ahead of it’s next round of testing. It’s the first time that anyone got to see the fully-stacked rocket in all its glory without any platforms and outside of the VAB, so literally THOUSANDS of people showed up (more on this later!).

The SLS has been developed for NASA’s Artemis program and is the most powerful rocket EVER built (at this point in time). It is a “super-heavy-lift launch vehicle that provides the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit,” according to NASA. It’s taken a while for this rocket to be built and “fully assembled” – as in, it’s taken decades to get to this point. But with the first uncrewed Artemis mission coming up hopefully later this year, called Artemis-1, it was finally time to get SLS ready for launch.

The SLS was assembled and is maintained in the VAB. This building was also home to the Apollo spacecraft and Space Shuttle, and each of their rockets. It has a legacy of rocket construction and is a U.S. national landmark. It is also one of the biggest buildings in the entire world, by volume!

The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)

On the day of rocket rollout, the first milestone of the day was to open the giant doors to the VAB (which are some of the biggest doors in the world!). It’s a very slow process, and took about 45 minutes of us standing in the direct sun from 11am – 12pm ET in Florida. Bring on the sunscreen!

The doors are opening!
Doors = Completely open!

After that, it was time to wait as SLS underwent final testing and NASA’s engineers made final preparations before rollout. I was lucky enough to experience this event as a member of the “media,” so I had some of the best views and insider looks throughout the day.

And then…. at around 6pm…. the “Roll to Pad” for the SLS began.

Taken at the start of SLS rollout

The SLS sits atop the “Crawler,” which has previously moved the Space Shuttles to their launchpads. The crawler moves at 0.8mph, which seems incredibly slow but in actuality, was frighteningly fast for us media and viewers because it was in front of us for only about an hour – an hour to capture any and all photos and videos that we can.

In the image below, if you look at the bottom to see the giant tank-like wheels, you can actually fit a large Sedan inside with LOTS of room to spare. You might even be able to fit two Sedans! You can also spot people standing at the base of the rocket – hopefully that adds some perspective as to the size of this rocket.

Fun fact: This entire vehicle (rocket + crawler) weighs about 6.6 MILLION pounds!

This event felt like a football tailgate, if I’m honest. People came from all around the country (maybe the world) to experience this historic moment. People parked along the grass, brought coolers of food and drinks, lawn chairs and shade umbrellas, and cheered when it first started moving. Now, when I say “people,” most of the attendees were NASA employees who brought their friends and family, as well as special VIP guests, us media and NASA’s partners. It was all space-nerds to have been waiting for this moment for decades; who felt emotional ties to this rocket, which will bring the first woman and first person of color to the Moon. How surreal, right?

In this image, you can see how there are cars parked everywhere on the lawns, as well as a bit more perspective on the size of the VAB + SLS to a car.

But back to the crawler + giant rocket.

As I mentioned before, the crawler moves at 0.8mph. The journey from the VAB to launchpad is just over 4 miles, so it took about 11-12 hours traveling through the night before it reached its destination.

We were all kicked out by around 9pm ET and came back before the sun rose for some beautiful sunrise shots…. unfortunately, it was a damp spring day here in Florida and the fog was incredibly thick. No one was able to have a decent view of the rocket at the launchpad until about 10am ET, once the sun rose enough to burn up some of the fog.

While that was a major bummer, it was still amazing to see the rocket at the launchpad, especially knowing that’s where it would be in a few months as launches to the Moon. Check out the progression of the fog lifting in the images below!

Our first peek of the rocket on the launchpad
A little while later, a bit more of the rocket is visible
Almost a full view of the rocket!
At last! A full view of the rocket in the sunshine!

If you’re in the area and go to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center before mid-April 2022, take the bus tour to see the VAB and you might be able to spot the SLS on the launchpad off in the distance!

This moment will forever go down in humanity’s history – but also my own. I don’t think that I’ll ever forget that moment of looking up, watching the crawler pass right in front of me.

I’ll also never forget the people who made it special. Thank you to the best manager ever; the entire Redwire team; and the friends that I’ve made in this industry.

How did I get so lucky?

Go NASA, go SLS, go Orion…. and go Redwire!


Thank you for reading! Have you ever been Kennedy Space Center or seen a rocket launch in person? Let me know in the comments below and like this post if you want more like it!




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