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NASA's moon launch by the numbers: Rocketing 110 football fields in 1 second, and more amazing facts

Artemis: America's New Moonshot | CBS Reports
Artemis: America's New Moonshot | CBS Reports 22:12

The Space Launch System rocket that will propel an uncrewed Orion capsule to the moon in the Artemis 1 mission is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built. It weighs 5.75 million pounds when fully fueled for launch, yet will climb nearly 500 feet straight up in just seven seconds.

NASA's SLS rocket
An illustration of the planned launch of NASA's Space Launch System, its most powerful rocket ever. NASA

"I'm afraid that people think it's routine," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told CBS News ahead of its highly anticipated first launch. "But when those candles light off, it's anything but routine. It is high-wire act all the way up. ... This is a big deal. And it is beautiful. And it is a monster! The size just overwhelms you."

Here are some remarkable facts and figures about NASA's powerhouse rocket:

Fuel load & shrinkage

  • When loaded with 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit, the huge fuel tank in the SLS core stage will shrink by about 6 inches in length and 1 inch in diameter. The rocket's liquid oxygen tank will shrink by an inch and a half in length and about 1.3 inches in diameter.
  • Because of that shrinkage, everything that connects to the tanks — ducts and vent lines, brackets, etc. — must attach with accordion-like bellows for flexibility.

Retro processor

  • The core stage flight computer, which controls all aspects of the rocket's climb to space, uses the same type Power PC microprocessor as a long-out-of-date G3 Macintosh Powerbook. The specialized operating system, however, is much more efficient.

Jumbo jets

  • The 2 million pounds of thrust from the core stage's four RS-25 engines could keep eight 747 jumbo jets in flight. The 3.6 million pounds of push from each of two solid-fuel boosters could power 14 four-engine jumbo jets.

Powering up

  • The energy output of the RS-25 engines, if converted into electricity, would power nearly 850,000 miles of streetlights on a road stretching to the moon and back and then 15 times around the Earth.
  • The four engines provide twice the power needed to move 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers at 30 knots.

Guzzling propellant

  • All four core stage engines consume 1,500 gallons of propellant per second, enough to drain an average 20,000-gallon swimming pool in 13 seconds.
  • The SLS rocket's two solid-fuel boosters consume 5.5 tons of propellant per second. The heat generated by the boosters during their two minutes of operation, if converted into electricity, would power 92,000 homes for a full day.

Fierce heat

  • The rocket booster exhaust is hot enough to fuse desert sand into glass during test firings at Northrop Grumman's plant in Utah.

Bolt blasting

  • The 5.75-million-pound SLS rocket is held to its launch pad by eight massive bolts, four at the base of each solid rocket booster. At booster ignition, explosive charges shatter the bolts and the SLS takes off.


  • In the first two minutes of flight, the twin solid rocket boosters provide 75% of the SLS rocket's overall thrust, boosting the vehicle to nearly 4,000 mph and an altitude of 27 miles. 
  • When the rocket's main engines shut down eight minutes after liftoff, the rocket will be moving at some 18,000 mph. That's fast enough to cover 88 football fields, placed end to end, in one second. The rocket's upper stage will increase the velocity to 22,600 mph — 110 football fields per second — to break out of Earth orbit and send the Orion capsule to the moon.
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