Massive Motion – NASA’s Mobile Launcher Moves to Launch Pad

Article written: 17 Nov , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

Video of Mobile Launcher on its move out to Launch Complex 39B courtesy of Alan Walters/

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – NASA decided that its Mobile Launcher (ML) needed a bit of a shakedown cruise – so it took it on a trip to Launch Complex – 39B (LC-39B). Along the way it stopped and reviewed data as to how the massive tower fared as it lumbered along at the blistering pace of a mile-an-hour. This does not make for riveting must-see video – unless you speed it up.

In the roughly minute-long video the ML moves along at a (somewhat) faster pace. The ML is part of the space agency’s plans to return NASA to the business of space exploration once again. If all goes according to plan, the ML will be the platform used to launch NASA’s Space Launch System or SLS.


As with so many aspects of space exploration, there is a type of art that flows from even the least aesthetic blocky components that are used to lift Heaven and Earth. For those with the right eye, even a metallic tower has a beauty all its own.

That is exactly what aerospace photographer Alan Walters does – find the path to let an object’s inner beauty shine through. The burly photographer has an artist’s eye and loves sharing the awe of all manners of space flight and spacecraft processing.

On Wednesday one of the most emotional aspects of the journey to the launch pad – was the resemblance of some of the images – to those shot during the Apollo era. This imagery could well be prescient as NASA is passing the responsibility of delivering crew and cargo to the International Space Station to commercial space firms as it turns its focus on launching crews to points beyond low-Earth-orbit.

In an image that is eerily similar to shots taken during the moonshots of the late 1960s and early 1970s NASA's Mobile Launcher moves out to Launch Complex-39B on Nov. 16, 2011. Photo Credit: Alan walters/

The ML moved from next to Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to LC-39B to collect data from structural and functional engineering tests. Any relevant data that is gleaned from the journey will be used to modify the ML. The 355-foot-tall ML is being developed to support NASA’s exploration objectives.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the move,” Walters said. “After the thing got moving, I began having Apollo flashbacks and I got more and more into photographing and getting video of this event. It made me hopeful about what we might be seeing fly out of Kennedy (Space Center) in the years to come.”

Spiraling upward into the sky, the Mobile Launcher rises some 355 feet into the air and could one day be the platform from which astronauts launch to visit other worlds. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

3 Responses

  1. Robert Gishubl says

    It might be cool that such an enormous structure is moving but is all the money spent on this test worth it?
    The trouble is this program is similar results could be achieved done cheaper and faster with better long term results in re-usability to reduce the cost of space access. SpaceX offered fixed price contract of $2 Billion to develop Heavy Lift sometimes known as Falcon XX. You compare that to the estimate of 21 Billion to get a test flight of the basic SLS. The SLS is too expensive for frequent use so it will not open up access to space. However the work SpaceX is doing to make Falcon 9 re-usable could dramatically reduce the cost to access space and make the SLS just another NASA paper rocket that never flew.
    The cost of this structure alone could have made up most of the shortfall in CCDev funding to reduce the human spaceflight gap.

    • Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph says

      I do not understand the way politicians think… The BEST for space exploration IS the involvement of private enterprise. If the US government continues on the path of now, the private launch industry will not be able to succeed. Only if these companies are used will they be able to offer lower cost. If not these enterprises will be choked…

      • Anonymous says

        I’m not sure I see the point of your argument. Quite a bit of NASA’s budget is used to buy space launch/exploration capabilities from private/publicly-traded corporations whether through the SLS system, SpaceX, or whomever; just as it actually did with the Space Shuttle, which was actually a 30-year windfall for a lot of the usual suspects (Boeing, Lockheed, Northrup, et al). Saying that SLS is against the involvement of “private enterprise” (I’m not sure what that is) is mendacious as SLS is being designed and built by “private enterprise” (again, whatever that is), it’s just being paid for with NASA nickels–same as SpaceX contracts.

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