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‘Safety always comes first’: NASA engineers to meet on future of Artemis lunar mission

NASA canceled the launch of its Artemis I mission on Monday, but space agency scientists were analyzing data from the attempt in hopes of sending the spacecraft back in the next few days, the first step in a series of launches that could make astronauts headed for the moon for the first time in half a century.

the main topic Monday came after engineers failed to get one of the rocket’s four engines up to the proper temperature needed to start them for liftoff. NASA said the Artemis team tried to quickly fix the problem before the scheduled departure time, but was unable to do so before a two-hour launch window closed.

The space agency said engineers were evaluating data from the attempt and the mission management team would meet Tuesday to discuss how to move forward. The next launch could take place on backup days on Friday, just before 1 pm local time, or Monday, weather permitting, or it could be delayed by more than a month.

The decision was a disappointment to thousands of rocket watchers who headed to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, including Vice President Kamala Harris. But NASA said it would not fire the rocket until it was safe to do so, despite years of delays that have plagued the $40 billion project.

Mike Sarafin, the manager of the Artemis mission, told reporters Friday was “definitely on the cards” for another launch, but said engineers would review data from Monday’s attempt to make sure everything was in order.

“We’re going to play all nine innings here,” Sarafin said during a Monday night news conference. “We are not ready to give up yet.”

NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket sits on Pad 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center hours before a scheduled launch on August 29, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch of the lunar rocket was postponed due to a problem with one of the rocket’s engines.

Photo by Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

NASA's next-generation lunar rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with its Orion crew capsule positioned on top, sits on Launch Pad 39B in preparation for the Artemis 1 mission, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, August 25, 2022.
NASA’s next-generation lunar rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with its Orion crew capsule positioned on top, sits on Launch Pad 39B in preparation for the Artemis 1 mission, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, August 25, 2022.

“We’re going to give the team time to rest, first of all, and then we’ll come back fresh tomorrow and re-evaluate what we learned today and then develop a number of options,” he added. “It’s too early to say what the options are.”

NASA administrator Bill Nelson called the rocket “new” and added that it “would not fly until it is ready.”

“I think it’s illustrative that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system, and all of those things have to work,” Nelson said during Monday’s news conference.

The Artemis mission will test NASA’s Space Launch System, a powerful rocket that will propel the Orion spacecraft past the moon. The mission will be unmanned (with three humanoid mannequins), but the Orion spacecraft will eventually be able to carry astronauts and begin a new era of space exploration. Humans haven’t set foot on the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and NASA has promised that future efforts will see the first woman and first person of color step onto the lunar surface.

When it finally leaves, Artemis I will orbit Earth before being propelled toward the moon. The spacecraft will fly within 60 miles of the moon’s surface while NASA monitors its systems, then enter a deep retrograde orbit for just under a week.

the the entire mission will last four to six weeks before the Orion spacecraft re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, traveling at about 25,000 mph and producing temperatures approaching 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“After about four to six weeks and a total distance flown in excess of 1.3 million miles, the mission will end with a test of Orion’s ability to safely return to Earth,” NASA says of the mission.

The launch of Artemis I, if it goes ahead, will cap an exciting summer for the country’s space agency. The heralded James Webb Space Telescope has been transmitting magical images from deep space since July, wowing cosmologists and astronomers and ushering in a new era of stargazing.


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