A hurricane forces NASA to return its rocket to the Moon, launch still postponed

published on Monday, September 26, 2022 at 5:47 p.m.

NASA’s new megarocket for the Moon will be returned to its hangar to shelter from a hurricane, the US space agency said Monday, an operation that indefinitely postpones the takeoff of the long-awaited Artemis 1 mission, already postponed several times.

NASA officials “met Monday morning and made this decision based on the latest forecast for Hurricane Ian,” NASA wrote in a blog post.

The 98-meter-tall rocket is currently on its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The complex maneuver to get it back to the gigantic assembly building, a few kilometers away, should begin at 23:00 local time (3:00 GMT). The rocket will be transported on a huge platform rolling very slowly, to avoid vibrations that could damage it as much as possible.

This is “the right move” to keep the crews and rocket “safe,” NASA associate administrator Jim Free tweeted.

Hurricane Ian, currently south of Cuba, is expected to move toward Florida later this week across the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA waited until the last minute to make its decision, because if the rocket could have been left outside, a liftoff attempt could have been scheduled just after the storm passed.

But now there won’t be time to get the rocket out before the end of the current launch period, which runs until October 4.

NASA has given no indication of a future launch date.

The next possible take-off period is October 17-31, with one possible take-off per day (except October 24-26 and 28). The next one is from November 12 to 27 (except 20, 21 and 26).

After two takeoff attempts canceled at the last moment a few weeks ago, in particular due to a fuel leak during the filling of the rocket’s tanks, this new setback is very unpleasant for NASA.

Fifty years after the last mission of the Apollo program, Artémis 1 is to be used to verify that the Orion capsule, on top of the rocket, is safe to transport a crew to the Moon in the future.

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