Artemis I rocket must retreat indoors as storm delays next launch attempt

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NASA officials announced on Monday that the space agency is returning the massive Artemis moon rocket to its hangar, called the Vehicle Assembly Building, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to protect it from Hurricane Ian.

The decision delays the third launch attempt of the Artemis I mission, which is expected to send an unmanned capsule around the moon, for at least a few weeks. The setback would likely push NASA’s next test to November, although late October could still be an option for the highly anticipated launch.

“Officials met Monday morning and made the decision based on the latest weather forecast associated with Hurricane Ian, after additional data collected overnight showed no improvement in expected conditions for the area. Kennedy Space Center,” NASA noted on its Artemis Blog.

The rocket, called the Space Launch System or SLS, is expected to make the slow 4.5-mile (7.2-kilometer) journey to the maintenance building beginning at 11 p.m. ET Monday.

“The decision allows time for employees to meet the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system. The time of first movement is also based on the best predicted conditions for the rollback to meet meteorological criteria for movement,” NASA said.

The overall goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to return humans to the Moon for the first time in half a century. And the Artemis I mission – expected to be the first in a long series – will lay the initial groundwork, testing the rocket and spacecraft and all of its subsystems to ensure it is safe enough for astronauts to steal.

But launching that first mission proved to be a trying undertaking. The agency had already decided over the weekend to postpone the third launch attempt, which had previously been scheduled for Tuesday, due to weather concerns. The question Monday morning was whether the mission team would need to bring the rocket back to safety as Hurricane Ian headed toward Florida.

With that decision made, NASA is now focused on returning the roughly $4 billion SLS rocket to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, a massive structure large enough to house the vehicle when sitting upright. . The rocket will make the journey by crawling slowly, on a moving platform named Crawler-Transporter 2.

Technical issues thwarted the first two attempts to get the SLS rocket off the ground for the Artemis I mission. One of the main challenges was a series of leaks that occurred as teams attempted to fill the rocket with hydrogen super chilled liquid hydrogen. The mission team has been working to resolve these issues and conducted a test last week. Although the tests didn’t go exactly as planned, NASA considered them a success, saying they “achieved all of our primary objectives.”

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