Mission managers planned to meet later that day to decide on a course of action. After Tuesday, a two-week launch lockout period begins. In the meantime, extensive leak inspections and repairs might require the rocket to be moved off the pad and back into the hangar; that would delay the flight until October, Nelson said. “We’ll go when it’s ready. We’re not going until then and especially now on a test flight, because we’re going to stress this and test it… and make sure it’s okay before we put four humans on it,” Nelson said.
He added: “This is part of our space program – get ready for the bushes.” NASA wants to send the crew capsule on the rocket around the moon, pushing it to the limit before the astronauts take the next flight. If the five-week demonstration with test dummies is successful, astronauts could fly around the moon in 2024 and land on it in 2025. The last time the moon was walked on was 50 years ago. Launch manager Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and her team had just started loading nearly 1 million gallons of fuel into the Space Launch System rocket at dawn when the leak appeared in the engine section at the bottom.
Ground controllers tried to plug it the way they’ve handled previous leaks: by 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 it twice, in fact, and also dropped helium through the line. But the leak persisted. B is missing alright-Thompson finally stopped the countdown after three or four hours of futile effort.
During Monday’s launch attempt, hydrogen fuel leaked from another part of the rocket. Technicians tightened the connections over the past week, but Blackwell-Thompson cautioned that he wouldn’t know if everything was tight until Saturday’s refueling. Hydrogen molecules are extremely small, the smallest there is, and even the smallest gap or crack can provide a way out. NASA’s now-retired space shuttles were plagued by hydrogen leaks. The new moon rocket uses the same type of main engines.
An even bigger problem on Monday, a sensor indicated that one of the rocket’s four engines was too hot, but engineers later verified that it was actually cool enough. The launch team planned to ignore the faulty sensor this time and rely on other instruments to make sure each main engine cooled properly. But the countdown never got that far. Mission managers accepted the additional risk posed by the engine problem, as well as a separate problem: cracks in the rocket’s foam insulation. But they acknowledged that other problems, such as fuel leaks, could cause another delay.
That didn’t stop thousands of people from clogging the shoreline to watch the Space Launch System rocket fly off. Local authorities expected massive crowds due to 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 Apollo’s twin sister 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, and crews they eventually spend weeks there. It is considered a training ground for Mars.