NASA’s Moon Rocket on Track for Launch Despite Lightning

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s new moon rocket remained on track to blast off on a crucial test flight Monday, despite a series of lightning strikes at the launch pad.

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket measures 322-feet, or 98 meters. It’s poised to send an empty crew capsule into lunar orbit, a half-century after NASA’s Apollo program, which landed 12 astronauts on the moon.

The six-week long test flight should prove successful and astronauts will be back on the moon within a few more years. NASA officials warn that there are risks and the flight may be cut short.

Three test dummies, instead of astronauts are fastened to the Orion capsule. They measure acceleration, vibration and radiation. This is one of the greatest dangers to humankind in deep space. More than 1,000 sensors are contained in the capsule.

Officials said Sunday that neither the rocket nor capsule suffered any damage during Saturday’s thunderstorm; ground equipment also was unaffected. Five lightning strikes were confirmed, hitting the 600-foot (183-meter) towers surrounding the rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The strikes weren’t strong enough to warrant major retesting.

“Clearly, the system worked as designed,” said Jeff Spaulding, NASA’s senior test director.

Storms are expected to increase. Forecasters predicted that Monday’s weather would be acceptable, with 80 percent of the forecasters predicting storms. However, it was possible for conditions to worsen during the launch window.

Spaulding indicated that technical issues were addressed by Spaulding, who said that team members did their best in the months past to fix any fuel leakage problems. A pair of countdown tests earlier this year prompted repairs to leaking valves and other faulty equipment; engineers won’t know if all the fixes are good until just a few hours before the planned liftoff.

After so many years of delays and setbacks, the launch team was thrilled to finally be so close to the inaugural flight of the Artemis moon-exploration program, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.

“We’re within 24 hours of launch right now, which is pretty amazing for where we’ve been on this journey,” Spaulding told reporters.

Four astronauts would fly around the moon on Artemis, the follow-on flight that could be launched as soon as 2024. The landing of the astronauts could occur in 2025. NASA is targeting the moon’s unexplored south pole, where permanently shadowed craters are believed to hold ice that could be used by future crews.

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