NASA’s Last Moon Rocket Test Before Launch – MyStateline.com
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA on Friday kicked off a critical countdown test for its new moon rocket, a 30-story behemoth that could make its first lunar test flight by summer.
The two-day demonstration – the last major step before liftoff to the moon – will culminate on Sunday as teams load nearly 1 million gallons of super cold fuel into the rocket on the pad. The countdown will stop at the 9 second mark before the motors turn on.
NASA plans to set a launch date after analyzing the results of the Space Launch System – SLS for short – rocket dress rehearsal.
Officials said the rocket could lift off as soon as June, sending the attached Orion crew capsule hurtling toward the moon. The capsule will spend at least a month in space before returning to Earth.
No one will be on board for the first moonshot since NASA’s Apollo lunar landings half a century ago. Astronauts will strap in for the second test flight scheduled for 2024, looping around the moon and back. This would pave the way for landing astronauts on the Moon around 2025, according to NASA.
The US Government Accountability Office, however, recently warned that technical challenges remain – mainly with the lunar lander and spacesuits – that could further delay the moon landing, already years behind schedule. The GAO also cited billions of dollars in increased costs.
Soaring 98 meters (322 feet), the rocket made its debut on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center two weeks ago. Since then, all of its systems have been powered up in preparation for this weekend’s test. Officials stressed that possible thunderstorms or technical problems could prolong the rehearsal.
NASA promised to provide updates throughout the weekend, but the public will not be able to listen. The space agency cited security concerns.
“We are cautious – an abundance of caution – and that’s especially in the environment we find ourselves in today,” said Tom Whitmeyer, NASA exploration systems development manager.
NASA plans to announce crews for the first lunar missions this summer. The pool of candidates includes nine men and nine women; two are on the International Space Station and two are due to arrive there in a few weeks.
Twenty-four astronauts flew to the moon during Apollo from 1968 to 1972; 12 landed on the lunar surface.
Unlike Apollo, NASA partners with private companies for its lunar program, named Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology. While NASA’s rocket and capsule will put astronauts into lunar orbit, SpaceX’s still-in-development spacecraft will carry them to the lunar surface, at least for the first mission. NASA is looking for additional companies for subsequent landings.
The space agency’s goal is to develop a sustainable lunar presence and then aim for Mars. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson recently cited 2040 as the target for a Mars expedition with astronauts.
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