NASA canceled the launch of its powerful new moon rocket on its maiden voyage with three test dummies on board due to a series of last-minute issues culminating in mysterious engine failures. The next launch attempt will not occur until at least Friday and may be delayed until September’s middle or later. The mission will be the first flight of NASA’s Artemis project, which aims to return men to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended fifty years ago.
NASA repeatedly halted and restarted the fuelling of the Space Launch System rocket on Monday morning due to a leak of extremely explosive hydrogen, eventually succeeding in minimizing the seepage. The leak occurred in the same location as seepage occurred during a spring dress rehearsal.
As a result of thunderstorms off the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, refueling was nearly an hour behind schedule. NASA encountered fresh difficulties when it was unable to properly cool one of the rocket’s four main engines, according to authorities. Engineers struggled to identify the root of the issue long after the launch delay was announced.
According to mission manager Mike Sarafin, the problem did not appear to be with the engine itself, but rather with the engine’s piping. As engineers attempted to troubleshoot this issue on the launch pad, a second hydrogen leak occurred, this time involving a vent valve located higher on the rocket, Sarafin added. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated, “This is a very intricate machine, a very complicated system, and you don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready to go.” Referring to launch delays, he stated, “It’s a normal aspect of the space industry, especially during a test mission.”
The rocket was scheduled to launch on a mission to propel a crew capsule into lunar orbit. The six-week mission was supposed to conclude with the capsule splashing down in the Pacific Ocean in October. The 322-foot (98-meter) spacecraft is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever constructed, surpassing even the Saturn V that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon. During the shakedown trip, the dummies inside the Orion capsule were equipped with sensors to measure vibration, cosmic radiation, and other factors in order to stress-test the spacecraft in ways that would never be tried with humans on board.
When asked about the prospect of a second launch attempt on Friday, Sarafin responded, “We really need time to examine all the information and data. Here, we will play all nine innings.” Even though there was no one on board, thousands of people crowded the coast to see the launch. Among the arrivals were Vice President Kamala Harris and Apollo 10 astronaut Tom Stafford.
If the shakedown trip is successful, astronauts will embark on the second Artemis mission in 2024 and fly around the moon and back. By the end of 2025, a two-person lunar landing is possible. Monday’s issues were reminiscent of NASA’s space shuttle era in the 1990s, when hydrogen fuel leaks halted countdowns and delayed a series of launches.
Later in the morning, NASA officials discovered what they believed to be a crack or other problem on the core stage — the large orange fuel tank with four main engines — but it turned out to be frost accumulation in a crevice of the insulating foam. In addition to dealing with sluggish communication between the Orion capsule and launch control, the launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her crew had to contend with slow communication between the Orion capsule and launch control. The issue required what turned out to be a straightforward solution.
NASA stated that even if there had been no technical issues, thunderstorms would have ultimately blocked a launch. As soon as the countdown was stopped, dark clouds and rain collected over the launch site, and thunder reverberated down the coast. The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The Associated Press is solely liable for all content.