Russia will send up a new capsule next month to bring back three space station crew members whose original ride home was damaged, officials said Wednesday. The two Russians and one American will stay several extra months at the International Space Station as a result of the capsule switch, possibly pushing their mission to close to a year, NASA and Russian space officials told reporters. Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, and astronaut Frank Rubio were supposed to return in March in the same Soyuz capsule that took them up last September. But that capsule was hit by a tiny meteoroid on Dec. 14, creating a small hole in the exterior radiator and sending coolant spewing into space. Read more: NASA Orion capsule safely blazes back from moon, aces test Sergei Krikalev, head of human spaceflight for the Russian Space Agency, said barring an emergency at the space station, it would be too dangerous for the crew to use that capsule to return to Earth. Although Russian engineers believe the capsule could survive reentry and land safely, the cabin temperature could reach the low 40s Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity because it couldn't shed heat generated by a computer and other electronics, noted Krikalev, a former cosmonaut. The new Soyuz capsule will be launched from Kazakhstan on Feb. 20, a month earlier than planned. No one will be on board; the capsule will fly in automatic mode, Russian Space Agency chief Yuri Borisov announced earlier in the day. The original plan was to launch this new Soyuz in March with two Russians and one American, replacements for the three already up there. This new crew will now have to wait until late summer or fall to fly when another capsule is ready for them. Russia will eventually bring back the damaged capsule with only science samples on board. NASA took part in all the discussions and agreed with the plan. “Right now, the crew is safe on board space station,” said NASA's space station program manager Joel Montalbano. “There’s no immediate need for the crew to come home today.” Backup plans are in the works, according to Montalbano and Krikalev, in case an emergency forces the seven space station residents to flee before the new Soyuz can be launched — like a fire or decompression. NASA is looking at the possibility of adding extra crew to the SpaceX capsule currently docked at the station. Read more: Boeing crew capsule launches to space station on test redo Neither Krikalev nor Montalbano could recall a similar case in which a substitute spacecraft needed to be quickly launched. Borisov said analysis confirmed the leak was caused by a micrometeoroid, not a piece of spacecraft debris or manufacturing defect. The resulting hole was about 1 millimeter in size or less than one-tenth of an inch. Montalbano said the three crew members took the news in stride. “I may have to find some more ice cream to reward them" on future cargo deliveries, he told reporters. Besides Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio, the space station is home to NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada; Russian Anna Kikina and Japan's Koichi Wakata. The four rode up on a SpaceX capsule last October.
A 38-year-old retired NASA satellite is about to fall from the sky. NASA said Friday the chance of wreckage falling on anybody is “very low.” Most of the 5,400-pound (2,450-kilogram) satellite will burn up upon reentry, according to NASA. But some pieces are expected to survive. The space agency put the odds of injury from falling debris at about 1-in-9,400. The science satellite is expected to come down Sunday night, give or take 17 hours, according to the Defense Department. Read more: NASA says spacecraft succeeded in changing asteroid’s orbit The California-based Aerospace Corp., however is targeting Monday morning, give or take 13 hours, along a track passing over Africa, Asia the Middle East and the westernmost areas of North and South America. .The Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, known as ERBS, was launched in 1984 aboard space shuttle Challenger. Although its expected working lifetime was two years, the satellite kept making ozone and other atmospheric measurements until its retirement in 2005. The satellite studied how Earth absorbed and radiated energy from the sun. The satellite got a special sendoff from Challenger. America's first woman in space, Sally Ride, released the satellite into orbit using the shuttle's robot arm. That same mission also featured the first spacewalk by a U.S. woman: Kathryn Sullivan. It was the first time two female astronauts flew in space together. Read more: NASA Orion capsule safely blazes back from moon, aces test It was the second and final spaceflight for Ride, who died in 2012.
NASA’s Orion capsule made a blisteringly fast return from the moon Sunday, parachuting into the Pacific off Mexico to conclude a test flight that should clear the way for astronauts on the next lunar flyby. The incoming capsule hit the atmosphere at Mach 32, or 32 times the speed of sound, and endured reentry temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) before splashing down west of Baja California near Guadalupe Island. A Navy ship quickly moved in to recover the spacecraft and its silent occupants — three test dummies rigged with vibration sensors and radiation monitors. NASA hailed the descent and splashdown as close to perfect, as congratulations poured in from Washington.. “I'm overwhelmed,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said from Mission Control in Houston. “This is an extraordinary day ... It's historic because we are now going back into space — deep space — with a new generation.” Read more: NASA's Orion capsule reaches moon, last big step before lunar orbit The space agency needed a successful splashdown to stay on track for the next Orion flight around the moon, targeted for 2024 with four astronauts who will be revealed early next year. That would be followed by a two-person lunar landing as early as 2025 and, ultimately, a sustainable moon base. The long-term plan would be to launch a Mars expedition by the late 2030s. Astronauts last landed on the moon 50 years ago. After touching down on Dec. 11, 1972, Apollo 17′s Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the valley of Taurus-Littrow, the longest stay of the Apollo era. They were the last of the 12 moonwalkers. Orion was the first capsule to visit the moon since then, launching on NASA’s new mega moon rocket from Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 16. It was the first flight of NASA’s new Artemis moon program, named after Apollo’s mythological twin sister. “From Tranquility Base to Taurus-Littrow to the tranquil waters of the Pacific, the latest chapter of NASA’s journey to the moon comes to a close. Orion back on Earth,” announced Mission Control commentator Rob Navias. While no one was on the $4 billion test flight, NASA managers were thrilled to pull off the dress rehearsal, especially after so many years of flight delays and busted budgets. Fuel leaks and hurricanes conspired for additional postponements in late summer and fall. In an Apollo throwback, NASA held a splashdown party at Houston’s Johnson Space Center on Sunday, with employees and their families gathering to watch the broadcast of Orion’s homecoming. Next door, the visitor center threw a bash for the public. Getting Orion back intact after the 25-day flight was NASA’s top objective. With a return speed of 25,000 mph (40,000 kph) — considerably faster than coming in from low-Earth orbit — the capsule used a new, advanced heat shield never tested before in spaceflight. To reduce the gravity or G loads, it dipped into the atmosphere and briefly skipped out, also helping to pinpoint the splashdown area. Read more: NASA’s newest moon rocket lifts off 50 years after Apollo All that unfolded in spectacular fashion, officials noted, allowing for Orion’s safe return. “I don't think any one of us could have imagined a mission this successful," said mission manager Mike Sarafin. Further inspections will be conducted once Orion is back at Kennedy by month’s end. If the capsule checks find nothing amiss, NASA will announce the first lunar crew amid considerable hoopla in early 2023, picking from among the 42 active U.S. astronauts stationed at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. “People are anxious, we know that,” Vanessa Wyche, Johnson's director, told reporters. Added Nelson: “The American people, just like (with) the original seven astronauts in the Mercury days, are going to want to know about these astronauts.” The capsule splashed down more than 300 miles (482 kilometers) south of the original target zone. Forecasts calling for choppy seas and high wind off the Southern California coast prompted NASA to switch the location. Orion logged 1.4 million miles (2.25 million kilometers) as it zoomed to the moon and then entered a wide, swooping orbit for nearly a week before heading home. It came within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the moon twice. At its farthest, the capsule was more than 268,000 miles (430,000 kilometers) from Earth. Orion beamed back stunning photos of not only the gray, pitted moon, but also the home planet. As a parting shot, the capsule revealed a crescent Earth — Earthrise — that left the mission team speechless. Nottingham Trent University astronomer Daniel Brown said the flight's many accomplishments illustrate NASA's capability to put astronauts on the next Artemis moonshot. “This was the nail-biting end of an amazing and important journey for NASA’s Orion spacecraft," Brown said in a statement from England. The moon has never been hotter. Just hours earlier Sunday, a spacecraft rocketed toward the moon from Cape Canaveral. The lunar lander belongs to ispace, a Tokyo company intent on developing an economy up there. Two U.S. companies, meanwhile, have lunar landers launching early next year.
A large section of the destroyed space shuttle Challenger has been found buried in sand at the bottom of the Atlantic, more than three decades after the tragedy that killed a schoolteacher and six others. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center announced the discovery Thursday. “Of course, the emotions come back, right?” said Michael Ciannilli, a NASA manager who confirmed the remnant's authenticity. When he saw the underwater video footage, “My heart skipped a beat, I must say, and it brought me right back to 1986 ... and what we all went through as a nation." It's one of the biggest pieces of Challenger found in the decades since the acciden t, according to Ciannilli, and the first remnant to be discovered since two fragments from the left wing washed ashore in 1996. Read more: Nasa issues second image of ‘Pillars of Creation’ taken by James Webb telescope Divers for a TV documentary first spotted the piece in March while looking for wreckage of a World War II plane. NASA verified through video a few months ago that the piece was part of the shuttle that broke apart shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven on board were killed, including the first schoolteacher bound for space, Christa McAuliffe. The underwater video provided “pretty clear and convincing evidence,” said Ciannilli. The piece is more than 15 feet by 15 feet (4.5 meters by 4.5 meters); it's likely bigger because part of it is covered with sand. Because there are square thermal tiles on the piece, it’s believed to be from the shuttle’s belly, Ciannilli said. The fragment remains on the ocean floor just off the Florida coast near Cape Canaveral as NASA determines the next step. It remains the property of the U.S. government. The families of all seven Challenger crew members have been notified. Read more: NASA says spacecraft succeeded in changing asteroid’s orbit “We want to make sure whatever we do, we do the right thing for the legacy of the crew,” Ciannilli said. Roughly 118 tons (107 metric tons) of Challenger debris have been recovered since the accident. That represents about 47% of the entire vehicle, including parts of the two solid-fuel boosters and external fuel tank. Most of the recovered wreckage remains buried in abandoned missile silos at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The exception is a left side shuttle panel on display at Kennedy Space Center's visitor complex, alongside the charred cockpit window frame from shuttle Columbia, which broke apart over Texas during reentry in 2003, killing seven astronauts. Far less has been recovered of Columbia — 42 tons (38 metric tons) representing 38% of the shuttle. The Columbia remains are stored in converted offices inside Kennedy’s massive hangar. Launched on an exceptionally cold morning, Challenger was brought down by eroded O-ring seals in the right booster. Columbia ended up with a slashed left wing, the result of foam insulation breaking off the external fuel tank at liftoff. Mismanagement was also blamed.. A History Channel documentary detailing the latest Challenger discovery airs Nov. 22.
Two NASA spacecraft at Mars — one on the surface and the other in orbit — have recorded the biggest meteor strikes and impact craters yet. The high-speed barrages last year sent seismic waves rippling thousands of miles across Mars, the first ever detected near the surface of another planet, and carved out craters nearly 500 feet (150 meters) across, scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science. The larger of the two strikes churned out boulder-size slabs of ice, which may help researchers look for ways future astronauts can tap into Mars’ natural resources. The Insight lander measured the seismic shocks, while the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provided stunning pictures of the resulting craters. Imaging the craters “would have been huge already,” but matching it to the seismic ripples was a bonus, said co-author Liliya Posiolova of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. “We were so lucky.” Mars’ atmosphere is thin unlike on Earth, where the thick atmosphere prevents most space rocks from reaching the ground, instead breaking and incinerating them. A separate study last month linked a recent series of smaller Martian meteoroid impacts with smaller craters closer to InSight, using data from the same lander and orbiter. Read: NASA says spacecraft succeeded in changing asteroid’s orbit The impact observations come as InSight nears the end of its mission because of dwindling power, its solar panels blanketed by dust storms. InSight landed on the equatorial plains of Mars in 2018 and has since recorded more than 1,300 marsquakes. “It’s going to be heartbreaking when we finally lose communication with InSight,” said Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the lander’s chief scientist who took part in the studies. “But the data it has sent us will certainly keep us busy for years to come.” Banerdt estimated the lander had between four to eight more weeks before power runs out. The incoming space rocks were between 16 feet and 40 feet (5 meters and 12 meters) in diameter, said Posiolova. The impacts registered about magnitude 4. The larger of the two struck last December some 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from InSight, creating a crater roughly 70 feet (21 meters) deep. The orbiter’s cameras showed debris hurled up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the impact, as well as white patches of ice around the crater, the most frozen water observed at such low latitudes, Posiolova said. Posiolova spotted the crater earlier this year after taking extra pictures of the region from orbit. The crater was missing from earlier photos, and after poring through the archives, she pinpointed the impact to late December. She remembered a large seismic event recorded by InSight around that time and with help from that team, matched the fresh hole to what was undoubtedly a meteoroid strike. The blast wave was clearly visible. Scientists also learned the lander and orbiter teamed up for an earlier meteoroid strike, more than double the distance of the December one and slightly smaller. “Everybody was just shocked and amazed. Another one? Yep,” she recalled. Read: NASA’s new telescope shows star death, dancing galaxies The seismic readings from the two impacts indicate a denser Martian crust beyond InSight’s location. “We still have a long way to go to understanding the interior structure and dynamics of Mars, which remain largely enigmatic,” said Doyeon Kim of ETH Zurich’s Institute of Geophysics in Switzerland, who was part of the research. Outside scientists said future landers from Europe and China will carry even more advanced seismometers. Future missions will “paint a clearer picture” of how Mars evolved, Yingjie Yang and Xiaofei Chen from China’s Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen wrote in an accompanying editorial.
NASA’s new moon rocket sprang another dangerous fuel leak Saturday, forcing launch controllers to call off their second attempt this week to send a crew capsule into lunar orbit with test dummies. The inaugural flight is now off for weeks, if not months. The previous try on Monday at launching the 322-foot (98-meter) Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA, was also troubled by hydrogen leaks, though they were smaller. That was on top of leaks detected during countdown drills earlier in the year. After the latest setback, mission managers decided to haul the rocket off the pad and into the hangar for further repairs and system updates. Some of the work and testing may be performed at the pad before the rocket is moved. Either way, several weeks of work will be needed, according to officials. With a two-week launch blackout period looming in just a few days, the rocket is now grounded until late September or October. NASA will work around a high-priority SpaceX astronaut flight to the International Space Station scheduled for early October. Read: Fuel leak ruins NASA's 2nd shot at launching moon rocket NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stressed that safety is the top priority, especially on a test flight like this where everyone wants to verify the rocket's systems “before we put four humans up on the top of it.” "Just remember: We’re not going to launch until it’s right," he said. NASA already has been waiting years to send the crew capsule atop the rocket around the moon. If the six-week demo succeeds, astronauts could fly around the moon in 2024 and land on it in 2025. People last walked on the moon 50 years ago. Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team had barely started loading nearly 1 million gallons of fuel into the Space Launch System rocket at daybreak when the large leak cropped up in the engine section at the bottom. Ground controllers tried to plug it the way they handled previous, smaller leaks: stopping and restarting the flow of super-cold liquid hydrogen in hopes of closing the gap around a seal in the supply line. They tried that twice, in fact, and also flushed helium through the line. But the leak persisted. Blackwell-Thompson finally halted the countdown after three to four hours of futile efforts. Mission manager Mike Sarafin told journalists it was too early to tell what caused the leak, but it may have been due to inadvertent over-pressurization of the hydrogen line earlier in the morning when someone sent commands to the wrong valve. Read: NASA aims for Saturday launch of new moon rocket after fixes “This was not a manageable leak,” Sarafin said, adding that the escaping hydrogen exceeded flammability limits by two or three times. During Monday's attempt, a series of small hydrogen leaks popped up there and elsewhere on the rocket. Technicians tightened up the fittings over the following days, but Blackwell-Thompson had cautioned that she wouldn't know whether everything was tight until Saturday's fueling. Hydrogen molecules are exceedingly small — the smallest in existence — and even the tiniest gap or crevice can provide a way out. NASA's space shuttles, now retired, were plagued by hydrogen leaks. The new moon rocket uses the same type of main engines. Even more of a problem Monday was that a sensor indicated one of the rocket's four engines was too warm, though engineers later verified it actually was cool enough. The launch team planned to ignore the faulty sensor this time around and rely on other instruments to ensure each main engine was properly chilled. But the countdown never got that far. Thousands of people who jammed the coast over the long Labor Day weekend, hoping to see the Space Launch System rocket soar, left disappointed. The $4.1 billion test flight is the first step in NASA's Artemis program of renewed lunar exploration, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. Years behind schedule and billions over budget, Artemis aims to establish a sustained human presence on the moon, with crews eventually spending weeks at a time there. It’s considered a training ground for Mars. Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during the Apollo program, the last time in 1972.
NASA’s new moon rocket sprang another dangerous fuel leak Saturday, forcing launch controllers to call off their second attempt to send a crew capsule into lunar orbit with test dummies. The first attempt earlier in the week was also marred by escaping hydrogen, but those leaks were elsewhere on the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA. Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team tried to plug Saturday’s leak the way they did the last time: stopping and restarting the flow of super-cold liquid hydrogen in hopes of removing the gap around a seal in the supply line. They tried that twice, in fact, and also flushed helium through the line. But the leak persisted. Blackwell-Thompson finally halted the countdown after three to four hours of futile effort. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below. CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA's new moon rocket sprang another hazardous leak Saturday, as the launch team began fueling it for liftoff on a test flight that must go well before astronauts climb aboard. For the second time this week, the launch team began loading nearly 1 million gallons of fuel into the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA. Monday’s attempt was halted by a bad engine sensor and leaking fuel. As the sun rose, an over-pressure alarm sounded and the tanking operation was briefly halted, but no damage occurred and the effort resumed. But minutes later, hydrogen fuel began leaking from the engine section at the bottom of the rocket. NASA halted the operation, while engineers scrambled to plug what was believed to be a gap around a seal in the supply line. The countdown clocks continued ticking toward an afternoon liftoff; NASA had two hours Saturday to get the rocket off. NASA wants to send the crew capsule atop the rocket around the moon, pushing it to the limit before astronauts get on the next flight. If the five-week demo with test dummies succeeds, astronauts could fly around the moon in 2024 and land on it in 2025. People last walked on the moon 50 years ago. Forecasters expected generally favorable weather at Kennedy Space Center, especially toward the end of the two-hour afternoon launch window. On Monday, hydrogen fuel escaped from elsewhere in the rocket. Technicians tightened up the fittings over the past week, but launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson stressed that she wouldn't know whether everything was tight until Saturday's fueling. Read: NASA scrubs launch of new moon rocket after engine problem Even more of a problem on Monday, a sensor indicated one of the rocket's four engines was too warm, but engineers later verified it actually was cold enough. The launch team planned to ignore the faulty sensor this time around and rely on other instruments to ensure each main engine was properly chilled. Before igniting, the main engines need to be as frigid as the liquid hydrogen fuel flowing into them at minus-420 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-250 degrees Celsius). If not, the resulting damage could lead to an abrupt engine shutdown and aborted flight. Mission managers accepted the additional risk posed by the engine issue as well as a separate problem: cracks in the rocket's insulating foam. But they acknowledged other problems — like fuel leaks — could prompt yet another delay. That didn't stop thousands from jamming the coast to see the Space Launch System rocket soar. Local authorities expected massive crowds because of the long Labor Day holiday weekend. The $4.1 billion test flight is the first step in NASA's Artemis program of renewed lunar exploration, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. Twelve astronauts walked on the moon during NASA’s Apollo program, the last time in 1972. Artemis — years behind schedule and billions over budget — aims to establish a sustained human presence on the moon, with crews eventually spending weeks at a time there. It's considered a training ground for Mars.
NASA aimed for a Saturday launch of its new moon rocket, after fixing fuel leaks and working around a bad engine sensor that foiled the first try. The inaugural flight of the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket — the most powerful ever built by NASA — was delayed late in the countdown Monday. The Kennedy Space Center clocks started ticking again as managers expressed confidence in their plan and forecasters gave favorable weather odds. Atop the rocket is a crew capsule with three test dummies that will fly around the moon and back over the course of six weeks — NASA’s first such attempt since the Apollo program 50 years ago. NASA wants to wring out the spacecraft before strapping in astronauts on the next planned flight in two years. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he’s more confident going into this second launch attempt, given everything engineers learned from the first try. Also read: Fuel leak interrupts launch countdown of NASA moon rocket So is astronaut Jessica Meir, who’s on NASA’s short list for one of the initial moon crews. “We’re all excited for this to go, but the most important thing is that we go when we’re ready and we get it right, because the next missions will have humans on board. Maybe me, maybe my friends,” Meir told The Associated Press on Friday. The engineers in charge of the Space Launch System rocket insisted Thursday evening that all four of the rocket’s main engines were good and that a faulty temperature sensor caused one of them to appear as though it were too warm Monday. The engines need to match the minus-420 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-250 degrees Celsius) of the liquid hydrogen fuel at liftoff, otherwise they could be damaged and shut down in flight. “We have convinced ourselves without a shadow of a doubt that we have good-quality liquid hydrogen going through the engines,” said John Honeycutt, the rocket’s program manager. Once fueling begins Saturday morning, the launch team will perform another engine test — this time earlier in the countdown. Even if that suspect sensor indicates the one engine is too warm, other sensors can be relied on to ensure everything is working correctly and to halt the countdown if there’s a problem, Honeycutt told reporters. NASA could not perform that kind of engine test during dress rehearsals earlier this year because of leaking fuel. More fuel leaks cropped up Monday; technicians found some loose connections and tightened them. The engine-temperature situation adds to the flight’s risk, as does another problem that cropped up Monday: cracks in the foam insulation of the rocket. If any foam pieces break off at liftoff, they could strike the strap-on boosters and damage them. Engineers consider the likelihood of that happening low and have accepted these slight additional risks. “This is an extremely complicated machine and system. Millions of parts,” NASA’s chief, Nelson, told the AP. “There are, in fact, risks. But are those risks acceptable? I leave that to the experts. My role is to remind them you don’t take any chances that are not acceptable risk.” The $4.1 billion test flight is NASA’s first step in sending astronauts around the moon in 2024 and landing them on the surface in 2025. Astronauts last walked on the moon in 1972.
NASA will try again Saturday to launch its new moon rocket on a test flight, after engine trouble halted the first countdown this week. Managers said Tuesday they are changing fueling procedures to deal with the issue. A bad sensor also could be to blame for Monday’s scrapped launch, they noted. The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket — the most powerful ever built by NASA — remains on its pad at Kennedy Space Center with an empty crew capsule on top. The Space Launch System rocket will attempt to send the capsule around the moon and back. No one will be aboard, just three test dummies. If successful, it will be the first capsule to fly to the moon since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago. Read: NASA scrubs launch of new moon rocket after engine problem Proceeding toward a Saturday launch will provide additional insight, even if the problem reappears and the countdown is halted again, said NASA’s rocket program manager, John Honeycutt. That’s better “than us sitting around scratching our heads, was it good enough or not.” “Based on what I’ve heard from the technical team today, what we need to do is continue to pore over the data and polish up our plan on putting the flight rationale together,” he said. During Monday’s launch attempt, readings showed that one of the four main engines in the rocket’s core stage could not be chilled sufficiently prior to the planned ignition at liftoff. It appeared to be as much as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) warmer than the desired minus-420 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-250 degrees Celsius), the temperature of the hydrogen fuel, according to Honeycutt. The three other engines came up just a little short. All of the engines appear to be fine, according to Honeycutt. The chilling operation will be conducted a half-hour earlier for Saturday afternoon’s launch attempt, once fueling begins that morning. Honeycutt said the timing of this engine chilldown was earlier during successful testing last year, and so performing it sooner may do the trick. Read: Facebook parent settles suit in Cambridge Analytica scandal Honeycutt also questioned the integrity of one engine sensor, saying it might have provided inaccurate data Monday. To change that sensor, he noted, would mean hauling the rocket back into the hangar, resulting in weeks of delay. Already years behind schedule, the $4.1 billion test flight is the opening shot in NASA’s Artemis moon-exploration program, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. Astronauts could strap in as soon as 2024 for a lap around the moon and actually attempt a lunar landing in 2025.
NASA called off the launch of its mighty new moon rocket on its debut flight with three test dummies aboard Monday after a last-minute cascade of problems culminating in unexplained trouble related to an engine. The next launch attempt will not take place until Friday at the earliest and could be delayed until mid-September or later. The mission will be the first flight in NASA's Artemis project, a quest to put astronauts back on the moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended 50 years ago. As precious minutes ticked away Monday morning, NASA repeatedly stopped and started the fueling of the Space Launch System rocket because of a leak of highly explosive hydrogen, eventually succeeding in reducing the seepage. The leak happened in the same place that saw seepage during a dress rehearsal in the spring. Also read: Fuel leak interrupts launch countdown of NASA moon rocket The fueling already was running nearly an hour late because of thunderstorms off Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Then, NASA ran into new trouble when it was unable to properly chill one of the rocket's four main engines, officials said. Engineers struggled to pinpoint the source of the problem well after the launch postponement was announced. Mission manager Mike Sarafin said the fault did not appear to be with the engine itself but with the plumbing leading to it. Complicating matters, as engineers were trying to troubleshoot that problem on the launch pad, yet another hydrogen leak developed, this one involving a vent valve higher up on the rocket, Sarafin said. “This is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system, and all those things have to work, and you don’t want to light the candle until it’s ready to go," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. Also read: NASA tests new moon rocket, 50 years after Apollo Referring to launch delays, he said: “It’s just part of the space business and it’s part of, particularly, a test flight.” The rocket was set to lift off on a flight to propel a crew capsule into orbit around the moon. The six-week mission was scheduled to end with the capsule returning to Earth in a splashdown in the Pacific in October. The 322-foot (98-meter) spaceship is the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA, out-muscling even the Saturn V that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon. The dummies inside the Orion capsule were fitted with sensors to measure vibration, cosmic radiation and other conditions during the shakedown flight, meant to stress-test the spacecraft and push it to its limits in ways that would never be attempted if humans were aboard. Asked about the possibility of another launch attempt on Friday, Sarafin said, “We really need time to look at all the information, all the data. We’re going to play all nine innings here.” Even though no one was on board, thousands of people jammed the coast to see the rocket soar. Vice President Kamala Harris and Apollo 10 astronaut Tom Stafford were among the VIPs who arrived. Assuming the shakedown flight goes well, astronauts will climb aboard for the second Artemis mission and fly around the moon and back as soon as 2024. A two-person lunar landing could follow by the end of 2025. The problems seen Monday were reminiscent of NASA's space shuttle era, when hydrogen fuel leaks disrupted countdowns and delayed a string of launches back in 1990. Later in the morning, NASA also officials spotted what they feared was a crack or some other defect on the core stage — the big orange fuel tank with four main engines on it — but they later said it appeared to be just a buildup of frost in a crevice of the insulating foam. Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team also had to deal with sluggish communication between the Orion capsule and launch control. The problem required what turned out to be a simple fix. Even if there had been no technical snags, thunderstorms ultimately would have prevented a liftoff, NASA said. Dark clouds and rain gathered over the launch site as soon as the countdown was halted, and thunder echoed across the coast.