CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A fuel leak interrupted NASA’s launch countdown for its new moon rocket early Monday, reappearing in the same place that saw seepage during a dress rehearsal back in the spring.
Launch controllers halted the tanking operation, which already was running an hour late because of thunderstorms offshore. They slowly resumed the process to confirm that it was, indeed, a hydrogen fuel leak and not faulty sensors, but alarms forced another temporary pause as precious minutes in the countdown ticked away.
The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket is the most powerful ever built my NASA, out-muscling even the Saturn V that carried astronauts to the moon a half-century ago.
This test flight, if successful, would put a crew capsule into lunar orbit for the first time in 50 years.
No astronauts were inside the Orion capsule atop the rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Instead, three test dummies were strapped in for the lunar-orbiting mission, expected to last six weeks.
Even with no one on board, thousands of people jammed the coast to see the Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket soar. Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States, flew to Orlando to be with her husband. However she had not yet made the long drive to Cape Canaveral to witness the liftoff.
The next launch attempt wouldn’t be until Friday at the earliest.
Hydrogen fuel leaks marred NASA’s countdown test back in April, prompting a slew of repairs. Although the demo went more smoothly in June, it also experienced leakage. Managers said they would not know for certain whether the fixes were good until attempting to load the rocket’s tanks with nearly 1 million gallons of super-cold fuel on Monday. Charlie Blackwell Thompson, Launch director and her team had to also deal with an Orion capsule communication problem.
Engineers scrambled to understand an 11-minute delay in the communication lines between Launch Control and Orion that cropped up late Sunday. Although the problem had cleared by Monday morning, NASA needed to know why it occurred before committing to launch.
This first flight of NASA’s 21st-century moon-exploration program, named Artemis after Apollo’s mythological twin sister, is years overdue. Repeated delays have led to billions in budget overruns; this demo alone costs $4. 1 billion.
Assuming the test goes well, astronauts would climb aboard for the second flight and fly around the moon and back as soon as 2024. Two-person lunar landings could be possible by the close of 2025. NASA targets the south pole of the moon.
During Apollo, 12 astronauts landed on the moon from 1969 through 1972, with stays of no more than a few days. NASA is looking to establish a lunar base during Artemis, with astronauts rotating in and out for weeks at a time. The next step would be Mars, possibly in the late 2030s or early 2040s.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.
The post Fuel leak interrupts launch countdown of NASA moon rocket appeared first on Associated Press.