The scheduled launch of Artemis 1 mission moon rocket has been scrubbed Monday, NASA has announced.
The decision came shortly after a NASA official warned that the agency still had a “lot of work” to do to get to a point where it could launch the rocket following fuel leaks and a possible crack discovered during final liftoff preparations.
The next launch attempt won’t be until midday Friday at the earliest.
“The fear now is that the problem is in engine 3. If so, it can’t be swapped out on the pad but will have to go back to the [vehicle assembly building],” Homer Hickham, a former NASA engineer, told FOX Business. “The delay will be not days but weeks. We shall see. There’s tons of data for the engineers to study before they can come to any conclusion about today’s attempt and whether the [Space Launch System] rocket can stay on the pad and try for Friday.”
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NASA repeatedly stopped and started the fueling of the Space Launch System rocket with nearly 1 million gallons of super-cold hydrogen and oxygen because of a leak. The fueling already was running nearly an hour late Monday because of thunderstorms off Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
The leak appeared in the same place that saw seepage during a dress rehearsal back in the spring. Then a second apparent leak in a valve turned up, officials said.
The rocket was set to lift off on a mission to put a crew capsule with three test dummies into orbit around the moon.
NASA’s assistant launch director, Jeremy Graeber, said after the repeated struggles with the first leak that the space agency would have to decide whether to go forward with the Monday morning launch.
“We have a lot of work to get to that point,” Graeber told the Associated Press.
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A crack or some other defect also was spotted this morning on the core stage — the big orange fuel tank with four main engines on it — with frost appearing around the suspect area, NASA officials said. Engineers began studying the buildup.
The 322-foot rocket is the most powerful ever built by NASA, out-muscling even the Saturn V that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
No astronauts were inside the rocket’s Orion capsule. Instead, three test dummies were strapped for the six-week mission, scheduled to end with the capsule’s splashdown in the Pacific in October.
Even though no one was on board, thousands of people had jammed the coast to see the rocket soar, with Vice President Kamala Harris among the VIPs.
The launch is the first flight in NASA’s 21st-century moon-exploration program, named Artemis after Apollo’s mythological twin sister.
Assuming the test goes well, astronauts would climb aboard for the second flight and fly around the moon and back as soon as 2024. A two-person lunar landing could follow by the end of 2025.
The problems seen Monday were reminiscent of NASA’s space shuttle era when hydrogen fuel leaks disrupted countdowns and delayed a string of launches back in 1990.
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Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team also had to deal with a communication problem involving the Orion capsule.
Engineers scrambled to understand an 11-minute delay in the communication lines between Launch Control and Orion that cropped up late Sunday. Although the problem had cleared by Monday morning, NASA needed to know why it occurred before committing to a launch.
Fox News’ Heather Lacy and the Associated Press contributed to this report.