NASA Scrubs Launch of New Moon Rocket for Second Time in a Week

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Last Updated on September 3, 2022

NASA has scrapped a scheduled unmanned flight to the moon for a second time after a fuel leak was discovered on the new 322-foot Artemis I rocket. The latest leak, which was discovered Saturday, is the second discovered this week, just before a scheduled launch.

Following the latest dilemma, the launch of NASA’s new moon rocket will be delayed for weeks, if not months. The latest attempt was NASA’s second go at sending a crew capsule into lunar orbit with test dummies, according to a report from the Associated Press.

NASA has been waiting years to send the crew capsule atop the rocket around the moon. If the proposed six-week demo flight succeeds, astronauts could fly around the moon in 2024 and land on it in 2025.

The agency previously attempted to launch the 322-foot Space Launch Rocket — the most powerful ever built by NASA — on Monday. That launch was troubled by hydrogen leaks, though those leaks were smaller than Saturday’s. Additional leaks were detected during countdown drills earlier this year.

Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team had barely started loading nearly 1 million gallons of fuel into the Space Launch System rocket system when the large leak was spotted in the engine section.

Ground controllers attempted to plug the hole with methods used on previous leaks, such as stopping and restarting the flow of super-cold liquid hydrogen in hopes of closing the gap around a seal in the supply line. NASA personnel attempted this twice, and also flushed helium through the line.

Despite repair efforts, the leak persisted. Blackwell-Thompson ultimately halted the countdown after three to four hours of unsuccessful attempts.

Mission manager Mike Sarafin told the Associated Press that it was too early to tell what caused the leak, though it may have been due to inadvertent over-pressurization of the hydrogen line earlier in the morning.

“This was not a manageable leak,” Sarafin said, adding that the escaping hydrogen exceeded flammability limits by two or three times.

During Monday’s aborted attempt, hydrogen leaks popped up in multiple sections of the rocket.  Technicians tightened up the fittings over the following days, but Blackwell-Thompson had cautioned that she wouldn’t know whether everything was tight until Saturday’s proposed launch.

Thousands of spectators gathered in Cape Canaveral, Florida over Labor Day weekend in hopes of seeing the rocket launch.  Though attendees left disappointed, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated that safety is the top priority, especially on a test flight that could lead to manned missions. “Just remember: We’re not going to launch until it’s right,” he said.

The $4.1 billion test flight is the first step in NASA’s Artemis program of renewed lunar exploration, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology.

As of September 2022, the project is years behind schedule and millions over budget. The project’s ultimate goal is to establish a sustained presence on the moon, with crews eventually spending weeks at a time there. It is considered a training ground for future Mars exploration.

The last manned Apollo moon mission took place in 1972.

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