CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A fuel leak interrupted NASA’s launch countdown for its new moon rocket early Monday, reappearing in the same place that saw seepage during a dress rehearsal back in the spring.
The tanking operation was already running late due to thunderstorms off the coast so launch controllers stopped it. Slowly, they resumed the tanking operation to verify that there was indeed a hydrogen fuel leaking and not defective sensors. But alarms forced an additional temporary pause while precious minutes ticked by.
NASA’s 322-foot rocket (98-meter) is the largest ever constructed. It outmuscles even the Saturn V, which carried astronauts to orbit the moon half a century ago.
If successful, this test flight would place a crew capsule in lunar orbit for only the second time in 50 years.
No astronauts were inside the Orion capsule atop the rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Three test dummies, which are expected to be six weeks long, were instead strapped into the Orion capsule at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Even without anyone onboard, there were thousands who gathered along the coast to watch the Space Launch System or SLS rocket rise. Kamala Harris, the Vice President, flew in Orlando to be with her husband but was unable to drive the hour to Cape Canaveral where the liftoff is scheduled.
The next launch attempt wouldn’t be until Friday at the earliest.
Hydrogen fuel leaks marred NASA’s countdown test back in April, prompting a slew of repairs. Although the demo went more smoothly in June, there was still some leakage. Managers said they would not know for certain whether the fixes were good until attempting to load the rocket’s tanks with nearly 1 million gallons of super-cold fuel on Monday.
Charlie Blackwell Thompson, Launch Director and her team had to also deal with communication issues involving Orion capsule.
Engineering teams worked quickly to find the cause of an 11 minute delay in communication between Launch Control, Orion and Launch Control that occurred late Sunday. NASA had to understand why the delay occurred, even though it was resolved by Monday morning.
This first flight of NASA’s 21st-century moon-exploration program, named Artemis after Apollo’s mythological twin sister, is years overdue. Repeated delays led to budget overruns of billions. This demonstration alone is $4.1 billion.
If all goes according to plan, the astronauts will climb onboard for the second flight around the moon. They could return as early as 2024. The end of 2025 could see a two-person lunar landing. NASA is targeting the moon’s south pole.
From 1969 to 1972, Apollo was home to 12 astronauts. Their stays were limited to a few days. NASA plans to build a lunar base in Artemis. Astronauts will rotate in and out of the base for several weeks. Mars is the next step, which could be in late 2030s and early 2040s.
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