CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida- An engine-cooling problem has forced NASA to postpone the debut Artemis test launch flight of the colossal new rocket-ship by at least four days.
It plans to use the rocket for future human-crewed flights to the moon: the first moon voyage, 50 years after the last lunar mission.
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A problem surfaced in the fuel tanks of the Space Launch System rockets. NASA said that these were being filled with super-cooled liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellants, and launch teams began a “conditioning” process to chill the engines sufficiently for liftoff.
But one of the four main engines failed to cool down as expected, prompting launch team managers to pause the countdown.
The launch was called off at 08:35 a.m. EDT (1235 GMT), two minutes after the targeted launch time, as the 32-story-tall rocket and its Orion capsule awaited liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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The mission, dubbed Artemis I, calls for a six-week, uncrewed test flight of Orion around the moon and landing in the Pacific.
NASA has not given a new launch date for the two-stage rocket. It said the first available opportunity was Friday, September 2. The next launch opportunity is Monday, September 5.
Late-hour launch postponements are routine in the space business, and Monday’s was not an indication of a significant setback for NASA or its primary contractors, Boeing Co for SLS and Lockheed Martin Corp for Orion.
“We don’t launch until it’s right,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in a webcast interview just after canceling the liftoff. “It’s illustrative of how complicated this machine is. A very complicated system and everything has to work.”
Still, the delay disappointed thousands of spectators who had gathered on the shores of Cape Canaveral with binoculars in hand.
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Vice President Kamala Harris had just arrived at the space center, joining a crowd of dignitaries and guests attending the event shortly before the cancellation.
The SLS-Orion rocket’s first journey will kick off NASA’s highly vaunted moon-to-Mars Artemis program, the inheritor of the Apollo lunar missions legacy.