CAPE CANAVERAL, FL, August 28, 2022 – A fuel leak interrupted the countdown to NASA’s launch of its new moon rocket early Monday.
Launch controllers halted the refueling operation, which was already an hour late because of thunderstorms off Kennedy Space Center. They slowly resumed the process to see if the hydrogen leak could worsen, which would almost certainly end the countdown, but alarms forced another pause.
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The 98-meter tall rocket is the most powerful ever built by NASA, surpassing even the Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts to the moon half a 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. Instead, three test dummies were attached for the lunar orbit mission, which is expected to last six weeks.
Even without anyone on board, thousands of people swarmed the coast to see the Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket soar.
Hydrogen fuel leaks marred NASA’s countdown test in April, causing a multitude of repairs. The test was repeated with more success in June, but again there were leaks.
This first flight of NASA’s 21st-century lunar exploration program, named Artemis, has been anticipated for years. Repeated delays have resulted in billions of dollars in budget overruns.
The current mission alone costs US$4.1 billion.
Assuming the test goes well, astronauts would board the second flight and fly around the moon and back as early as 2024. A two-person lunar landing could follow by the end of 2025. NASA is targeting the moon’s south pole.
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Twelve astronauts from various Apollo missions landed on the moon from 1969 to 1972, with stays of only a few days. NASA is looking to establish a lunar base during Artemis, with astronauts going in and out for weeks at a time.
The next step would be Mars, perhaps in the late 2030s or early 2040s.