Hurricane Ian forces NASA to roll its mega moon rocket to shelter

NASA can’t catch a break with its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Following two aborted attempts to send the vehicle on its maiden flight a month ago, NASA decided several days ago to abandon a potential third launch effort as Tropical Storm Ian approached the Kennedy Space Center launch site in Florida.

But Tropical Storm Ian has now developed into Hurricane Ian, leaving NASA with little choice but to perform the laborious task of removing the rocket from the launchpad to protect it from possible damage.

Fans of (very) slow TV can watch NASA’s giant crawler transporter carry the rocket back to its shelter inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, a process that’s set to begin at 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. PT) tonight and continue through the night.

“Due to weather predictions related to Hurricane Ian, NASA teams will roll the Artemis I NASA SLS rocket and NASA Orion spacecraft back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA Kennedy. First motion is targeted for 11 p.m. ET tonight,” NASA said in a tweet announcing its decision.

Due to weather predictions related to Hurricane Ian, @NASA teams will roll the #Artemis I @NASA_SLS rocket and @NASA_Orion spacecraft back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at @NASAKennedy.

First motion is targeted for 11 pm ET tonight: https://t.co/Bx7oanmpa4 pic.twitter.com/wwPds84R36

— NASA Artemis (@NASAArtemis) September 26, 2022

The hurricane is yet another headache for NASA’s SLS team as it seeks to send the 98-meter-tall rocket to space for the first time as part of the Artemis I mission.

No firm date has been set for the next launch attempt, but once in orbit, the SLS vehicle will deploy the Orion spacecraft, which will perform a flyby of the moon before returning to Earth about six weeks later.

Artemis I will fly without a crew, but if it goes well, NASA will send astronauts on Artemis II, which will fly the same route as the first mission.

After that, Artemis III, which could take flight as early as 2025, will endeavor to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface in what will also be the first crewed landing since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

But before NASA can properly launch the Artemis program, it needs calm weather conditions to prevail at the Kennedy Space Center.

The National Weather Service said on Monday that Ian is shaping up to be a “major hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico during the middle of this week,” adding: “Regardless of Ian’s exact track, there is a risk of a life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall along the west coast/Panhandle of Florida by midweek.”

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