NASA’s newest rocket, the Space Launch System, launches with Alabama DNA

NASA’s Space Launch System — the agency’s most powerful rocket ever — launched on its inaugural mission on November 16, thanks to significant contributions from scientists, engineers, technicians and workers in Alabama.

After launch, NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on its way to the moon as part of the Artemis program. SLS took off for its flight test debut in an unmanned Orion from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA said the launch represents the first leg of the Artemis I mission, which will take Orion about 40,000 miles beyond the moon and return to Earth over the course of 25.5 days.

Alabama officials congratulated the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, which led the design and development of SLS, and the Boeing Alabama workforce, who played a key role in the program. NASA said 106 Alabama companies have contributed to the SLS and Orion projects.

“It is wonderful that America is again taking the lead in space exploration with the Artemis I program. It’s a source of pride for all Americans and can fuel a new generation of young dreamers to pursue science, math and engineering studies,” said Gov. Kay Ivey.

“Artemis I can extend the reach of the future space workshop by taking the first woman and first person of color to the moon and proving that space exploration is for everyone.”

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, was at the Kennedy Space Center for the groundbreaking launch.

“The launch of Artemis I is another milestone in the impressive history of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center,” he said. “From the groundbreaking development of the Saturn V rocket over half a century ago to the design and development of the new SLS that will bring Artemis back to the moon, thousands of space workers in Alabama can be very proud of having contributed to this incredible achievement to have.”

Scientists, engineers, technicians and other workers in Alabama made key contributions to NASA’s SLS, which departed Wednesday on its maiden mission from Kennedy Space Center to the moon. (Bill Ingalls/NASA)

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Not only did Marshall contribute to Artemis I, his teams are already building rockets and working on technology and hardware needed for future missions that will return American astronauts to the lunar surface, part of building a long-term lunar presence.

“Artemis I will carry much of the expertise, dedication and pride of our Marshall team members,” said Marshall Director Jody Singer. “From making and testing the bones and brains of the Space Launch System rocket, to assisting with that flight and beyond, we are so proud to contribute to this historic achievement in our nation’s space program.”

Marshall hosts the Space Launch System Program Office, which directs the planning, design, development, testing, evaluation, production and operations of the integrated launch vehicle.

Marshall team members developed and tested the flight software in-house and built key parts of the rocket in manufacturing facilities.

In addition, key structural tests of SLS liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel tanks were performed at Marshall.

Boeing, which has had a strong presence at Huntsville for more than 60 years, was the prime contractor for the design, development, test and production of the launch vehicle core and upper stages, as well as development of the flight avionics suite.

Marshall Space Flight Center Associate Director Joseph Pelfrey, a 2000 Auburn University aerospace graduate whose team designed and developed SLS, said the rocket concealed a special tribute to his alma mater.

“War Eagle! is written somewhere in that vehicle,” said Pelfrey. “I won’t say where or who put it there, but I can assure you, ‘War Eagle’ is already there.”

Auburn University has contributed significant technical and administrative talent to the Marshall Space Flight Center and the nation’s space program, including several astronauts.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.