NASA preparing for second attempt to shoot for the moon

Ground teams at Kennedy Space Center in Florida have begun the final preparations ahead of a second attempt to send NASA’s giant, next-generation moon rocket on its debut test flight today.

It comes six days after technical problems foiled an initial try last Monday.

Mission managers were last night still “go” for a lift-off this afternoon of the 32-storey tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion space capsule.

This will kick off NASA’s moon-to-Mars Artemis programme, successor to the Apollo lunar missions a half-century ago, NASA officials said.

Tests conducted on Thursday night showed technicians appeared to have fixed a leaky fuel line that contributed to NASA’s decision to halt Monday’s initial launch operation.

Two other key issues on the rocket itself – a faulty engine temperature sensor and some cracks in insulation foam – have largely been resolved, Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin told reporters.

Melody Lovin, a launch weather officer for the US Space Force in Cape Canaveral, said forecasts called for a 70% chance of favourable conditions during the two-hour launch window – which opens at 7.18pm Irish time – as well as for a back-up launch time on Monday.

“The weather continues to still look pretty good for the launch attempt,” Ms Lovin said. “I do not expect weather to be a show-stopper by any means for either launch window.”

Still, she added, the odds of scrubbing a launch on any given day for weather or any reason were about one-in-three.

The mission, dubbed Artemis I, marks the first voyage for both the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, built under NASA contracts with Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, respectively.

The SLS is set to launch Orion around the moon and back on a 37-day, uncrewed test flight designed to put both vehicles through their paces before flying astronauts in a subsequent mission targeted for 2024.

If the first two Artemis missions succeed, NASA is aiming to land astronauts back on the moon, including the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface, as early as 2025, though many experts believe that time frame is likely to slip by a few years.

Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, the only space flights yet to place humans on the lunar surface.

Apollo grew out of the US-Soviet space race of the Cold War era, while NASA’s renewed lunar focus is driven more b yscience and encompasses international partnerships with the space agencies of Europe, Japan and Canada, and with commercial rocket ventures such as SpaceX.

Unlike Apollo, the latest flights to the moon are aimed at establishing a long-term, sustainable base of operations on the lunar surface and in lunar orbit as a stepping stone for eventual human expeditions to Mars.

NASA’s first step is getting off the ground with the SLS, the biggest new vertical launch system the US space agency has built since the Saturn V rocket of the Apollo era.

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