It’s just hours before NASA’s Artemis lunar rocket launches. Will I finally fly?

NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar rocket and Orion spacecraft prepare for launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Red Huber/Getty Images Transition caption Red Huber/Getty Images NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket and Orion spacecraft prepare for launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Red Huber/Getty Images NASA is once again counting down the hours until the first flight test of the new 32-story Artemis rocket. The space agency is struggling to launch a multi-billion-dollar rocket from the ground that can send a capsule around the moon without a crew and allow administrators to conduct critical tests of the system. Takeoff is now targeted for a two-hour window, opening at 1:04 a.m. EST on Wednesday, November 16, and weather at the Florida launch site is looking promising. “The countdown so far is going very well and is proceeding as scheduled,” Jeremy Parsons, associate program manager for Exploration Ground Systems at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, told reporters Monday evening. The successful launch will be a key milestone in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman and first person of color to the moon’s surface. The agency hasn’t launched a spacecraft designed to send astronauts to the moon since 1972. An initial launch attempt for the Artemis rocket was canceled in August due to faulty engine sensors. It then suffered a hydrogen fuel leak and had to be repaired by the agency. Next, Hurricane Ian rolls in and returns the rocket to the hangar. Parsons called it “a bit of a disappointment”. And as the giant rocket returned to its launch pad off the coast of Florida, it was blown up by Hurricane Nicol, which proved to be a more powerful storm than officials expected. Mission managers spent a lot of time discussing hurricane damage to the thin caulking material filling the small gap in the top of the rocket where the Orion crew capsule resides. Some of this material is torn and too high to repair. One concern was that more bits could fall off during takeoff and hit other parts of the rocket. But NASA’s Mike Sarafin, mission manager for the Artemis I, says engineers have analyzed the situation extensively and think it’s okay to fly. A close-up view of this rocket shows damage from Hurricane Nicole. Some caulking material visible as a bright white band just above the thin black line has been torn in the wind. Hide NASA Caption Transition Caption NASA This close-up view shows the damage caused by Hurricane Nicol. Some caulking material visible as a bright white band just above the thin black line has been torn in the wind. “We went through that today and we’ve closed that action item,” Sarafin told reporters on a conference call Monday. “I asked if there were any objections, there were no and we accepted the grounds for flight.” He says that because the Artemis team has persevered through all these recent setbacks, “it gives me comfort that when it’s time to fly, I’ll be ready.” “Our time is coming, hopefully on Wednesday,” says Sarafin. “But if Wednesday isn’t the right day, we’ll take the next hurdle, the next trial, and persevere.” Some space flight experts have criticized NASA’s new rockets as being too expensive to be sustainable. The first three flights are expected to cost more than $4 billion each. And these rockets aren’t going to fly all that often. The next flight to send astronauts around the moon won’t happen for years to come. The moon landing won’t happen until 2025 at the earliest. But building these big rockets has been a major focus of NASA’s human spaceflight program since it stopped flying the Space Shuttle in 2011. To focus on the moon and space, the agency has outsourced routine trips to the International Space Station to commercial providers. Operated by SpaceX, a private company founded by wealthy entrepreneur Elon Musk, the space capsule carries cargo and operates as a space taxi for astronauts. NASA selected SpaceX to build a lunar module that would take astronauts from a capsule in orbit around the moon to the surface. SpaceX is also developing a larger rocket called the Starship, designed to be reusable and cheaper than NASA’s Artemis rocket.
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