NASA’s behemoth booster designed to send astronauts on expeditions into deep space is starting to take shape.

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Source: NASA/Jude Guidry

Engineers at the space agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans have completed the “forward join” connecting structures to form the top part of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s core stage.

The forward join connected three structures: the forward skirt, the liquid oxygen tank and the intertank.

This milestone marks the beginning of integration and assembly of the massive, 212 foot-tall SLS core stage, which will include the rocket’s four RS-25 rocket engines, propellant tanks and flight computers.

Now, NASA and Boeing, the SLS prime contractor, will continue to integrate various systems inside the forward part of the core stage and prepare for structural joining of the liquid hydrogen tank and engine section to form the bottom stage.

These two parts of the core stage will then be assembled to form the largest stage NASA has ever built.

Once the completed core stage is tested at Stennis Space Center, it will be stacked at Kennedy Space Center with the upper part of the rocket, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage and the Orion capsule, and joined to the rocket’s twin solid rocket boosters in preparation for first launch.