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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida –
The approaching storm threatens to delay NASA’s next launch attempt for its new lunar rocket, which has been landing for weeks due to a fuel leak.
A tropical depression in the southern Caribbean is moving towards Florida and could become a major hurricane.
The manager on Friday stated that the rocket is now ready to launch on its first test flight, having overcome more hydrogen leaks during a refueling test earlier this week. It will be the first time a crew capsule has orbited the moon in 50 years; the spaceship will carry mannequins but no astronauts.
The team will continue to monitor the weather forecast and decide by Saturday at the latest whether to not only postpone the test flight, but also tow the rocket off the runway and return to the hangar. It’s not clear when the next launch attempt – whether October or even November – should the rockets have to seek shelter indoors.
The preference is to stay on the launch pad and try to take off on Tuesday, “but there is still some uncertainty in the forecast,” said Tom Whitmeyer, associate deputy administrator for NASA exploration systems.
It took three days of preparation to bring the rocket back to the giant Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building, a 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) journey that lasted several hours.
“I don’t think we’re going to cut it,” Whitmeyer told reporters. “We’re just taking it step by step.”
The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket can withstand gusts of 85 mph (137 kph) on the pad, but only 46 mph (74 kph) after moving.
This will be the third launch attempt for the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful NASA has ever built. Fuel leaks and other technical problems canceled the first two trials, in late August and early September.
Although hydrogen fuel seeped through a newly installed seal during Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, the launch team managed to lower the leak to an acceptable level by slowing the flow and reducing pressure in the line. That gave the launch team the confidence to continue Tuesday’s launch efforts, officials said.
The manager said that the 30-year shuttle program also saw many hydrogen fuel leaks and storm-related setbacks. The main engine of the lunar rocket is actually an upgraded version of what the space shuttle flies.
Also, the Space Force has extended the certification of on-board batteries that are part of the flight safety system – at least until early October.
NASA has only two opportunities to launch the rocket – Tuesday and October 2 – before the two-week blackout period begins. The next launch period will open on October 17th.
Astronauts will board the plane for a second test flight around the moon in 2024. The third mission, targeted for 2025, will see a pair of astronauts land on the moon.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is fully responsible for all content.