‘Safety Is Always First’: NASA Engineers To Meet About Future Of Artemis Moon Mission


NASA scrubbed the launch of its Artemis I mission on Monday, but scientists at the space agency were pouring over data from the attempt in hopes of sending the spacecraft in the coming days, the first step in a series of launches that could see astronauts headed toward the moon for the first time in a half century.

The main issue Monday came after engineers couldn’t get one of the rocket’s four engines to the proper temperature needed to start them at liftoff. NASA said the Artemis team tried to quickly fix the problem before the scheduled departure time, but weren’t able to do so before a two-hour launch window closed.

The space agency said engineers were evaluating data from the attempt and the mission’s management team would gather Tuesday to discuss how to move forward. The next launch could take place on backup days on Friday, just before 1 p.m. local time, or Monday, weather permitting, or potentially be pushed back by more than a month.

The decision was a disappointment for thousands of rocket-watchers who drove to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, including Vice President Kamala Harris. But NASA said it wouldn’t fire up the rocket until doing so was safe, despite years of delays that have beleaguered the $40 billion project.

Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager, told reporters Friday was “definitely in play” for another launch, but said engineers would be sifting through data from Monday’s attempt to make sure everything was in order.

“We’re going to play all nine innings here,” Sarafin said during a press briefing on Monday night. “We’re not ready to give up yet.”

NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket sits at pad 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center hours before a scheduled launch on August 29, 2022, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch of the moon rocket was postponed due to an issue with one of the rocketâs engines.

Photo by Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

NASA's next-generation moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with its Orion crew capsule perched on top, stands on launch pad 39B in preparation for the Artemis 1 mission, at Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. August 25, 2022.
NASA’s next-generation moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with its Orion crew capsule perched on top, stands on launch pad 39B in preparation for the Artemis 1 mission, at Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. August 25, 2022.

“We are going to give the team time to rest, first of all, and then come back fresh tomorrow and reassess what we learned today and then develop a series of options,” he added. “It’s too early to say what the options are.”

Bill Nelson, NASA’s administrator, said the rocket was “brand new,” adding it wouldn’t “fly until it’s ready.”

“I think it’s just illustrative that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system, and all those things have to work,” Nelson said during the press conference Monday.

The Artemis mission will test NASA’s Space Launch System, a powerful rocket, that will propel the Orion spacecraft beyond the moon. The mission will be unmanned (holding three humanoid dummies), but the Orion craft will eventually be able to hold astronauts and begin a new era of space exploration. Humans haven’t stepped foot on the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and NASA has pledged future efforts would see the first woman and the first person of color step foot on the lunar surface.

When it does eventually leave, Artemis I will orbit the Earth before being propelled towards the moon. The spacecraft will fly within 60 miles of the moon’s surface as NASA monitors its systems, then go on into deep retrograde orbit for just under a week.

The full mission will last four to six weeks before the Orion spacecraft reenters the Earth’s atmosphere, traveling some 25,000 mph and producing temperatures approaching 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“After about four to six weeks and a total distance traveled exceeding 1.3 million miles, the mission will end with a test of Orion’s capability to return safely to the Earth,” NASA says of the mission.

The Artemis I launch, if it moves forward, will cap an invigorating summer for the country’s space agency. The heralded James Webb Space Telescope has been transmitting magical images from deep space since July, stunning cosmologists and astronomers and ushering in a new era of stargazing.

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