NASA's Orion spacecraft arrives in historic VAB ahead of moon launch

Orion to launch on lunar test flight in early 2022

The NASA spacecraft designed to return humans to the moon made its final journey Tuesday before being stacked as the crown of the Artemis rocket for launch.

NASA plans to launch the Orion spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight to orbit the moon early next year.

Overnight Tuesday, the spacecraft was rolled into the historic Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion marks the last piece of the Space Launch System rocket, the Artemis moon program launch vehicle, needed to complete the assembly.

The spacecraft traveled about 6.2 miles moving at 3 mph. The trek took about 4 hours, according to NASA's Exploration Ground Systems team in charge of the spacecraft transport.

It's taken more than a year for all the SLS hardware to arrive at KSC. Earlier this year, a barge ship delivered the rocket's 212-foot core stage.

The rocket parts were then stacked inside the 525-feet-tall VAB. The Orion spacecraft is the final piece stacked before the rocket is moved from the VAB to KSC launchpad 39B. It will be stacked in the next few days, according to KSC officials.

Orion was built by Lockheed Martin and has undergone years of testing. The spacecraft is essential to NASA's Artemis program, which will return astronauts to the moon in the next few years.

The first test flight for Orion, known as Artemis-1, will launch next year without crew. The spacecraft will orbit the moon, testing the abilities end-to-end before NASA conducts the Artemis-2 mission with four astronauts on board. That mission will include a moon flyby and it won't be until Artemis-3 that boots will land back on the moon.

As soon as 2024, the spacecraft will launch from Florida and dock at NASA's lunar gateway, an orbiting outpost around the moon. The astronauts will then take a SpaceX's Starship spaceship down to the surface of the moon.