On Monday, NASA decided not to go through with the launch of its powerful new moon rocket, which was scheduled to carry three test dummies, due to a series of unforeseen issues that culminated in an inexplicable engine issue.
The next launch attempt won’t happen until at least Friday and may not happen until mid-September or later.
When it takes place, the mission will mark the start of NASA’s Artemis project, which aims to send men back to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended 50 years ago.
Due to a leak of extremely explosive hydrogen, NASA repeatedly halted and restarted the fuelling of the Space Launch System rocket as critical minutes passed Monday morning. Eventually, the seepage was successfully reduced to acceptable levels. The identical spot where seepage occurred during a dress rehearsal in the spring was where the leak occurred.
Storms off Florida’s Kennedy Space Center already caused the fuelling to be about an hour late.
Then, according to insiders, NASA encountered further difficulties when it was unable to adequately freeze one of the rocket’s four main engines. After the launch was postponed, engineers kept trying to identify the issue’s root cause.
Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, said that “this is a really intricate machine, a very complicated system, and all those things have to function, and you don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready to go.”
He stated, “It’s simply part of the space industry and it’s part of, especially, a test mission,” in reference to launch delays.
The rocket was prepared to launch on a mission to place a crew capsule in lunar orbit. The capsule was supposed to return to Earth in October after a six-week journey with a splashdown in the Pacific.
The NASA-built 322-foot (98-meter) spacecraft is more powerful than the Saturn V that launched the Apollo men to the moon.
Derrol Nail, a launch commentator, said engineers were still investigating the engine issue and that “we must wait to see what shakes out from their test data” when asked whether NASA may try another liftoff.
During the shakedown flight, sensors were installed in the test dummies within the Orion capsule to detect vibration, cosmic radiation, and other variables. This was done to stress-test the spacecraft and push it to its absolute limits in ways that would never be tried with people onboard.
Numerous crowds gathered along the shore to see the rocket launch despite the absence of any passengers. Tom Stafford, an astronaut from Apollo 10, and Vice President Kamala Harris also attended.
Astronauts will board the second Artemis mission and fly around the moon and return as early as 2024, if the shakedown trip goes as planned. By the end of 2025, a two-person lunar landing may take place.
The issues on Monday brought up memories of NASA’s space shuttle program, when hydrogen fuel leaks in 1990 halted countdowns and delayed a number of missions.
NASA experts saw what they first believed to be a fracture or other fault on the core stage, which is the large orange fuel tank with the four main engines, later in the morning. However, they eventually determined that it was likely simply a deposit of frost in a fissure of the insulating foam.
A communication issue with the Orion capsule also needed to be resolved by launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her crew.
Engineers worked frantically to determine the cause of an 11-minute communication hiccup that occurred late on Sunday between launch control and Orion. Even though the issue was resolved by Monday morning, NASA needed to know what went wrong in order to proceed with the launch.
Despite all the technical difficulties, a liftoff would not have been possible due to thunderstorms. As soon as Blackwell-Thompson stopped the countdown, dark clouds began to gather above the launch site, and thunder could be heard down the shore.