CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA has had to scrub yet another launch date for Artemis I, but this time the agency can blame Mother Nature.
Tropical Storm Ian, which is expected to strike Florida as a major hurricane next week, has forced NASA to forego a launch opportunity Tuesday and prepare for possibly rolling the moon rocket back to the assembling building for safety.
Engineers are holding off on whether to roll until Sunday, when they’ll have more information about Ian’s projected strength and path.
If Artemis I managers elect to roll back, it would begin late Sunday night or early Monday morning.
But either way, the rocket will NOT be launching on Tuesday. Teams decided Saturday to stand down on preparing for the Tuesday launch date to allow them to configure systems for rolling back the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
NASA had been replacing leaky seals in its Artemis I moon rocket at the pad in hopes of launching it on its first test flight on Sept. 27. Now, the earliest launch date would be Oct. 2.
A series of hydrogen fuel leaks and other problems halted back-to-back launch attempts earlier this month.
The Space Launch System rocket — the most powerful ever built by NASA — holds a crew capsule with three test dummies. The space agency wants to send the capsule into lunar orbit on a trial run, before putting astronauts on the next flight, in 2024. That around-the-moon mission would pave the way for the first human moon landing in 50 years, currently scheduled for 2025.
Engineers are hopeful that replacing a pair of seals in the hydrogen fuel lines at the bottom of the rocket will take care of any lingering leaks.
As an extra precaution, the launch team plans “a kindler and gentler approach to tanking” during the final phase of the countdown, slowing the flow of fuel at times to reduce stress on the seals, according to Mike Bolger, a program manager.
“We’re optimistic that we can knock this problem flat," he told reporters.
Running years late and billions over budget, NASA’s new lunar exploration program is named Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology. Twelve astronauts walked on the moon back in the late 1960s and early 1970s during NASA’s Apollo program.