NASA has canceled the first launch of its “mega moon rocket,” a brand-new spacecraft built for exploration and colonization of the solar systemfor the second time this week.
A crowd of 400,000 people showed up to watch the planned launch of the Artemis 1 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida today (Sept. 3) between 2:17 PM and 4:17 PM EDT, but as with the aborted first attempt on Monday (29 August), the unmanned flight was thwarted by technical problems and poor weather conditions.
The rocket’s first attempt was scrubbed because engineers were unable to cool one of the rocket’s four core stage RS-25 engines to a safe temperature in time for launch. NASA stated that it had fixed the problem, blaming it on a faulty temperature sensor that incorrectly reported the temperature inside the engine as much higher and much further from flight-ready than it actually was.
Related: Lightning strikes the ‘Mega Moon rocket’ launch pad of the Artemis I mission during tests
But this morning, when the rocket was being loaded with its first fuel — liquid hydrogen cooled to minus 420 Fahrenheit (minus 250 Celsius) — an alarm went off, alerting engineers to a hole in the seal of one of the rocket’s engines. causing the fuel to leak out. Engineers tried to plug the leak three times but failed to plug the leak, NASA said.
“The Artemis 1 Mission To” the moon has been postponed,” NASA wrote on Twitter. “Teams attempted to resolve an issue related to a leak in the hardware transporting fuel inside the rocket, but were unsuccessful.”
NASA has yet to announce the launch window for the rocket’s third attempt, but said in an announcement Tuesday (Aug. 30) that another attempt could be made as early as Monday (Sept. 5).
The giant rocket — consisting of the six-person Orion capsule atop the 30-story Space Launch System (SLS) “mega moon rocket” — is preparing for the first of two test voyages that will pave the way for a human moon landing in 2026, the marking humanity’s return to the moon for the first time since 1972 and signaling NASA’s intent to establish a long-term presence there.
Orion plans to fly twice past the moon, 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the lunar surface, as far as 40,000 miles (64,000 km) beyond the moon before returning to Soil 38 days after launch.
Onboard the Orion are three mannequins that NASA will use to test radiation and heat levels during the flight. A Snoopy plush is also along for the ride, floating around in the capsule as a gravity indicator.
When Orion returns, it’s set to return hotter and faster than any spacecraft has ever had, up to 5,000 f (2800 C) as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound. This will put the capsule’s ablative heat shield to the test, which, in addition to the craft’s parachute, will use air friction to slow Orion to just 20 mph (32.2 km/h), after which it should be safely in the Pacific Ocean. crashing off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, ready for pickup.
The flight will be followed by Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 in 2024 and 2025/2026 respectively. Artemis 2 will make the same journey as Artemis 1, but with a human crew of four, and Artemis 3 will send the first woman and first colored person to the moon’s south pole.
Speak with BBC radio 4 ahead of the launch, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said he was confident Monday’s technical issues had been resolved and the rocket would fly.
NASA engineers “checked it, as we say in the southern United States, from ‘stomach to gizzard,'” Nelson said. “They have a lot of confidence and that’s why I have a lot of confidence.”
But despite this, Nelson said many of the missile’s other core components had yet to be fully tested.
“The whole rocket is new, the heat shield has to work,” Nelson said. “We’re going to emphasize it and test it in a way that we would never do with people on it. But that’s the purpose of a test flight. I’m very confident and if there are anomalies or errors or unexpected events, that’s part of a test flight.”
NASA is relying heavily on a successful mission for Artemis 1, which has come under scrutiny for a price tag that has risen to dazzling levels. The program, which began in 2017, has already cost more than $40 billion to develop and is expected to cut U.S. taxpayers by $93 billion by the end of 2025, according to the office of NASA Inspector General Paul Martin — the the space agency’s internal auditor.
“Given our estimate of $4.1 billion per launch of the SLS/Orion system for at least the first four Artemis missions, NASA needs to accelerate its efforts to find ways to make its Artemis-related programs more affordable,” it said. Martin on a March 1 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aviation. “Otherwise, relying on such an expensive single-use rocket system will, in our view, hamper, if not derail, NASA’s ability to support its human exploration targets of the Moon and Mars in the long term.”
Despite the cost, NASA maintains that the program is worthwhile, as it will spur technological innovation and be a critical next step in humanity’s exploration of the cosmos.
“This time we’re not just going to touchdown” [on the Moon] and leave after a few hours or a few days – we go back to learn, to live, to work, to explore, to determine if there is water; therefore on the [moon’s] south pole that would mean we have rocket fuel, we have a gas station there,” Nelson said. “This time we’re going to learn how to live in that hostile environment for a long time, all with the goal of going to Mars.”
Luca Parmitano, an astronaut from the European Space Agency, wrote on Twitter that such technical problems routinely occur at NASA launches and that the rocket would eventually launch anyway.
“A Little Perspective: 11 [NASA] Shuttles had to be rolled back to fix something. 2 of them had to be rolled back twice,” he wrote. “When Artemis 1 flies, no one will remember the delays – if something had gone wrong today, we would have remembered it for a long time. So: go Artemis! ”
Originally published on Live Science.