The head of America’s space program came to New Orleans Friday, and joined legendary performer Irma Thomas to stare in awe at one of the biggest machines either had ever seen. The huge new welding machine is essential to build the next generation rocket to take astronauts to outer space. It’s a huge blue metal tower, 170 feet tall. the Vertical Assembly Center is the world’s largest spacecraft welding machine. Irma Thomas was amazed. “It’s magnificent. It’s just unbelievable to see this kind of equipment in one building.”
See the gargantuan structure above that dwarfs that line of puny humans at the bottom (bet you didn’t even notice them at first glance, huh)? It’s a welding tool — the biggest one built for spacecraft, in fact, that’s slated to help Boeing build the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System at the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The structure’s officially called the Vertical Assembly Center, and it stands 170 feet tall with a width that measures 78 feet: not exactly surprising, considering the SLS is a 200-foot-tall behemoth. It’s but one of the many tools Boeing intends to use to build the core stage of NASA’s “most powerful rocket ever” after the two organizations finalized their $2.8 billion deal in July. The core stage will house cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen used to power the rocket’s four engines, and building it brings the SLS much closer to the launch pad for deep space exploration.