What’s going on with NASA’s mega moon rocket launch?

NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is still on the ground.

It’s secured inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to keep it safe from Hurricane Ian, which at this moment is battering the state with strong winds and torrential rain.

The 98-meter-tall SLS rocket, whose first flight will mark the start of a new era of space exploration, was supposed to launch at the end of August, but a technical hitch with one of the core stage’s engines forced an abort about 70 minutes before lift-off.

With the engine issue fixed, NASA tried again in early September, but a liquid hydrogen leak again prompted engineers to halt that launch effort, too.

NASA chose to sort out the issues with the rocket still on the launchpad, preferring not to haul it four miles to the VAB unless it was really necessary.

But then along came Hurricane Ian, making that removal really necessary. So on Monday night out came NASA’s crawler vehicle to transport the SLS rocket back to the VAB.

“As part of NASA’s hurricane preparedness protocol, a ‘ride out’ team will remain in a safe location at Kennedy throughout the storm to monitor center-wide conditions,” NASA said in a post on its website on Wednesday. “After the storm passes, they will conduct an assessment of facilities, property, and equipment. Once it is safe for additional employees to return to Kennedy, engineers will extend platforms to establish access to the rocket and spacecraft.”

It added: “Managers will review options on the extent of work that will be conducted in the VAB before returning to the launch pad or identifying the next opportunity for launch. Technicians will swap out batteries on the rocket’s flight termination system and retest the system prior to the next launch attempt.”

NASA had earlier announced Sunday, October 2, as a possible launch date, but the disruption caused by Hurricane Ian means that that window of opportunity is almost certain to pass by without any activity.

When it finally gets underway, the Artemis I mission will propel an uncrewed Orion spacecraft toward the moon, where it will perform a fly-by before returning to Earth six weeks after launch.

A successful mission will pave the way for a crewed Artemis II flight taking the same route, while Artemis III, which could take place as early as 2025, will endeavor to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.

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