NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar rocket looks up into stormy skies in incredible aerial photos

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA — Everyone on the Space Coast has been focused on one thing this week: the launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) for NASA’s Artemis 1 mission around the moon.

The first launch of the agency’s new heavy lunar rocket is scheduled for Monday morning (August 29) during a two-hour window that begins at 8:33 am EST (1233 GMT). Less than 24 hours before the countdown clock hits zero, hopped into a helicopter to enjoy an aerial view of the giant SLS rocket before it took off.

Many people these days are accustomed to launching and then landing SpaceX rockets either on one of the company’s unmanned ships in the ocean or on one of SpaceX’s landing pads at Cape Canaveral. But once the SLS launches the ambitious Artemis 1 mission, the rocket will not return. The SLS solid rocket boosters and the first stage fuselage would drop rather than fly into the ocean.

Related: These NASA photos of lightning strikes on the Artemis 1 lunar rocket launch pad are astounding
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So once the SLS takes off from Launch Pad 39B, it will be two years before another takes its place.

The Artemis 1 launch has been in the making for over a decade and is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of spectators to the space coast. While many viewers come from other parts of Florida, those who come from out of state are learning to pay close attention to the weather conditions on the space coast, as storms can negatively affect not only their vacation, but also the launch itself.

The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) stands in the foreground at KSC, and NASA’s Artemis 1 Lunar Rocket, Space Launch System, stands on Launch Complex 39B in the background. (Image credit: Dinner)

At the moment, the weather forecast for tomorrow is predicted with an 80% chance of favorable conditions for a launch in the first half of the window; these chances decrease to 60% by the end of the second hour. As is typical of much of Florida during the summer, the weather around NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) last week has shifted between sunny skies and torrential downpours that can come and go within minutes.

KSC is NASA’s largest facility and is large enough to house its own fire department, traffic police, and employee catering facilities. Serving as the main spaceport for the entire United States, KSC covers over 140,000 acres (570 square kilometers) that it shares with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

A small break in the clouds illuminates the Artemis 1 SLS rocket at Launch Complex 39B. (Image credit: Dinner)

And the center boasts rules and procedures for everything, including a set of weather-related protocols that mandate shelter in place under certain lightning conditions.

Space Coast weather the day before launch was standard Florida, so instead of being stuck in the rain, took to the skies around KSC to see the SLS from the air before the rocket leaves the launch pad for good tomorrow. Our helicopter remained in clear skies, but conditions over KSK were more ominous.

NASA’s SLS Mega Lunar Rocket stands on Launch Complex 39B, reflected in Cochrane Bay, Cape Canaveral. (Image credit: Dinner)

Luckily, the passing storms were weak enough to give a good view of the space center. And while we’ll be sad to see the SLS go, the excitement of this rocket getting off the ground can be felt everywhere you go here on the space coast. Let’s light this candle.

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