Sept. 27 (UPI) — With a powerful hurricane barreling toward Florida, NASA has postponed this week’s highly anticipated launch of the Artemis I spacecraft and will not attempt another launch until at least mid-October.
The agency said Monday that it had started moving the $4.1 billion rocket from the launch pad back to its storage hangar at Kennedy Space Center, with Hurricane Ian currently pounding Cuba before it was set to make landfall along Florida’s west coast on Wednesday.
“Managers met Monday morning and made the decision based on the latest weather predictions associated with Hurricane Ian, after additional data gathered overnight did not show improving expected conditions for the Kennedy Space Center area,” NASA said in a statement on its website. “The decision allows time for employees to address the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system.”
Late Monday night, work crews began the arduous process of rolling the nearly 3,000-ton Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. The 4-mile move from launch pad 39B atop the crawler-transporter appears to have taken more than nine hours to complete.
NASA was live-streaming the event, and by 9 a.m. Tuesday, the rocket was shown upright and traveling turtle-speed toward the hangar.
Officials said they were hopeful that the agency’s facilities would ultimately be spared by the storm.
While the rocket is back in house, teams are planning to conduct routine maintenance to ensure all flight systems are working as expected.
NASA has been eager to launch the SLS rocket with the Orion capsule module atop, but the agency continues to encounter maintenance and weather delays.
The Artemis mission will return American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.
NASA postponed the mission earlier this month after a hydrogen fuel leak twice derailed the launch.
The agency next eyed a launch window between Sept. 19 and Oct. 4, but the coming storm now means the launch won’t happen before Oct. 17, when the earth and moon are in just the right tandem through Halloween.
After that, the next launch windows are Nov. 12-27 and Dec. 9-23.
The first launch attempt on Aug. 29 was canceled due to a fuel leak and a bad sensor on one of the main engines. The next, on Sept. 3, was scrubbed again due to a fuel leak that NASA has since repaired.
Once it launches, Artemis I will fly more than a half-million miles to the moon and back over 42 days. The uncrewed mission is designed to test new systems and lay groundwork for astronauts to return to the moon’s surface sometime in 2025.