NASA has again postponed the launch of the Artemis 1 mission, the inaugural test flight of the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket with the Orion capsule, intended to take humans back to the Moon. The second attempt was scheduled for this Saturday (3), from 15:17 (Brasilia time).
The American space agency is now analyzing the next steps and may make another third attempt this Monday (5).
NASA missed the first launch window last Monday (29) because of a technical problem with one of the vehicle’s engines, which is parked on platform 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Technicians and engineers had to deal with signs of small leaks of hydrogen (which is combined with oxygen in the engines to propel it, generating water as a by-product of burning), as well as a difficulty in conditioning the rocket’s first stage engine 3 ( that needs to be cooled down before turning on).
It is not uncommon for space vehicles, especially on a maiden flight, to have last-minute unforeseen circumstances.
Interviewed shortly after Monday’s postponement, NASA administrator Bill Nelson (who was a senator and even flew into space on the space shuttle Columbia in 1986), recalled that the takeoff of his own mission to orbit suffered four delays on the platform until that everything looked perfect for the flight on the fifth attempt.
If it departs on Monday, the Artemis 1 mission could last around six weeks, making it the longest-lived capsule flight ever to take crew into deep space.
However, if it is not possible to launch by this date, the flight delay promises to be longer, as it will be necessary to take the rocket back to the hangar in order to recertify the system that allows the vehicle to be remotely destroyed in an emergency (the capsule, designed to carry humans, is naturally ejected in such a situation).
Orion will travel carrying experiments and two dummies into a distant retrograde lunar orbit, before returning to Earth and landing in the Pacific Ocean.
If all goes well with the test flight, the way will be open for Artemis 2, the first mission to take humans to the vicinity of the Moon since Apollo 17, in December 1972. NASA hopes to carry out this flight in 2024, with the possibility of that ends up staying for 2025. The promise is to take the next man and the first woman to the moon.
The aim is to establish a permanent presence on the Moon and use it as a testing ground for the technologies needed for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.