NASA has delayed the launch of its new moon rocket Artemis I for ‘a few weeks’ following fears of a tropical storm expected to become a major hurricane.
The delay was the third in the past month to hit the space agency’s flagship lunar shuttle, which was originally due to take part in an unmanned test flight on September 9.
Hydrogen fuel leaks and other technical problems are said to have led to earlier cancellations.
Currently rumbling somewhere in the Caribbean, Tropical Storm Ian is expected to become a hurricane on Monday and hit the Gulf coast of Florida on Thursday.
However, the entire state is in the cone indicating the possible path of the hurricane’s center, including NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Given the uncertainty of the forecast, NASA decided on Saturday to cancel its planned launch attempt on Tuesday and instead prepare the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket for a possible return to its hangar.
Managers will decide on Sunday whether to haul it off the launch pad.
If the rocket remains on the runway, NASA could attempt an October 2 launch attempt, which would be the last chance before the two-week blackout period.
But a setback on Sunday or Monday morning will likely mean a lengthy delay to the test flight, possibly pushing it into November.
‘We don’t launch until we think it’s right’ said NASA chief Bill Nelson, before saying such delays were ‘just part of the space business.’
‘We’ll go when we’re ready. We’re not leaving until then, and especially on the test flight because we’re going to stress this and test it, and test that heat shield and make sure it’s right before we put the four humans on top.’
‘Although [next launch] the window opens early October, I think it will be more like the middle,” he added.
The move comes as the space agency wants to send another crew of astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 to demonstrate the progress made in space travel during that time.
The current 38-day mission, to 40,000 miles beyond the moon and back, is not unlocked, but must be successful before astronauts can board the second test flight planned for 2024.
If both flights pass the test run, it will pave the way for astronauts to take part in a two-person moon landing expedition which is expected to take place sometime in late 2025.
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