By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Staff Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida. (AP) — NASA pushed Monday to launch a rocket to the new moon to put a manned capsule into lunar orbit for the first time in 50 years, after a leak resurfaced at the same location that leaked during a dress rehearsal at spring. .
As the precious minutes of the countdown ticked by, launch controllers repeatedly halted the refueling operation, already running nearly an hour behind schedule due to thunderstorms off the coast of Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
NASA Deputy Launch Director Jeremy Graeber said controllers were eventually able to reduce the leak to a safe and acceptable level, where it remained stable as nearly 1 million gallons of supercold fuel filled the rocket’s core stage tanks. .
Graeber said NASA still has a chance to launch Monday morning, but won’t target a new liftoff time until the 10-minute wait in the countdown when managers conduct the “go or no-go” survey.
“We have a lot of work to do to get to that point,” Graeber warned.
The 98-meter (322-foot) rocket is the most powerful ever built by NASA, surpassing even the Saturn V used by the Apollo program that carried astronauts to the moon half a century ago.
There were no astronauts inside the Orion capsule. Instead, three test dummies were strapped in for the lunar orbit mission, which is expected to last six weeks.
Even though no one was on board, thousands of people packed the shoreline to watch the Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket fly off. Vice President Kamala Harris flew to Orlando with her husband, but she had not yet made the hour-long drive to Cape Canaveral for the planned takeoff.
If Monday’s launch can’t proceed, the next launch attempt won’t be until Friday at the earliest.
A dangerous hydrogen fuel leak messed up NASA’s countdown test in April, prompting a slew of repairs. The demo was repeated with more success in June, but that too saw some leaks. Managers had said they wouldn’t know for sure whether the repairs were good until they tried to load the rocket’s tanks on Monday.
The problem was reminiscent of NASA’s space shuttle era, when hydrogen fuel leaks disrupted countdowns and delayed a series of launches in 1990.
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.
This first flight of NASA’s 21st-century lunar exploration program, named Artemis after Apollo’s mythological twin sister, is years behind schedule. Repeated delays have led to billions in budget overruns; This demo alone costs $4.1 billion.
Assuming the test goes well, the astronauts would 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. NASA is targeting the south pole of the moon.
During Apollo, 12 astronauts landed on the moon from 1969 to 1972, with stays of no more than a few days. NASA is looking to set up a lunar base during Artemis, with astronauts coming and going for weeks. The next step would be Mars, possibly in the late 2030s or early 2040s.
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