CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida. (AP) — A fuel leak and then an engine problem during final liftoff preparations prompted NASA to halt the launch of its mighty rocket to the new moon Monday morning in a test flight with three mannequins. test on board.
The next launch attempt won’t take place until Friday at the earliest.
As the precious minutes ticked by, NASA repeatedly stopped and started fueling the Space Launch System rocket with nearly 1 million gallons of super-cold hydrogen and oxygen due to a highly explosive hydrogen leak at the same location that it was filtered during a dress rehearsal. back in the spring.
NASA then ran into new problems when it failed to properly cool one of the rocket’s four main engines, officials said. Engineers continued to work to collect data and identify the source of the problem after the launch postponement was announced.
The rocket was ready to take off on a mission to put a crew capsule into orbit around the moon. The launch marks a milestone in the United States’ quest to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo program ended 50 years ago.
The 322-foot (98-meter) spacecraft is the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA, surpassing even the Saturn V that carried the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
As for when NASA might make another launch attempt, launch commentator Derrol Nail said the issue was still being looked at and “we have to wait to see what comes out of their test data.”
There were no astronauts inside the rocket’s Orion capsule. Instead, test dummies, outfitted with sensors to measure vibration, cosmic radiation and other conditions, were strapped in for the six-week mission, scheduled to end with the capsule’s splashdown in the Pacific in October.
Although no one was on board, thousands of people packed the shoreline to watch the rocket rise. Vice President Kamala Harris was expected among the VIPs.
The launch, when it happens, will be the first flight in NASA’s 21st-century lunar exploration program, named Artemis after Apollo’s mythological twin sister.
Assuming the test goes well, the astronauts will climb aboard for the second flight and fly around the moon and return as soon as 2024. A two-person lunar landing could follow in late 2025.
The problems seen Monday were reminiscent of NASA’s space shuttle era, when hydrogen fuel leaks disrupted countdowns and delayed a series of launches in 1990.
Later in the morning, NASA officials also detected what they feared was a crack or some other defect in the core stage, the large orange fuel tank with four main engines, but later said it appeared to be just a buildup of Frost.
Launch manager Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team also had to deal with a communication problem related to the Orion capsule.
Engineers were quick to understand an 11-minute delay in communication lines between launch control and Orion that surfaced Sunday night. Although the issue was fixed Monday morning, NASA needed to know why it happened before committing to a launch.