How Does NASA Get Again to the Moon? Apply, Apply, Apply.

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On its fourth try on Monday, NASA principally accomplished a follow countdown for the rocket that’s to take astronauts to the moon.

But company officers mentioned it was too early to know whether or not the rehearsal can be sufficient to provide the go-ahead for the rocket, the Space Launch System, to launch the Orion capsule on a take a look at flight across the moon with no astronauts aboard.

Even if the follow countdown had gone completely, that mission, Artemis 1, would have been unlikely to blast off sooner than late August. That flight is to be the place to begin for the United States to return astronauts to the lunar floor greater than a half century after the Apollo 17 mission.

Sitting on a launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the rocket’s propellant tanks had been for the primary time totally crammed with 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen into the rocket’s propellant tanks. Problems that had occurred throughout three earlier makes an attempt in April had been solved.

“I think it was a very successful day and again accomplished a majority of the objectives,” Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the launch director, mentioned throughout a information convention of Tuesday.

However, a brand new downside — hydrogen leaking in a gasoline line connector — cropped up. By warming up after which cooling the connector once more, engineers hoped that the seal would shift sufficient to cease the leaking. That didn’t work.

During an actual launch, that downside would have been the tip of the countdown for the 322-foot tall rocket.

But the train on Monday was what NASA calls a moist costume rehearsal — moist due to the flowing of precise gasoline into the propellant tanks — that’s designed to work out glitches and procedures with out the joy of engines igniting and rocket rising to area.

With the countdown clock paused at T-10 minutes, engineers labored out a plan the place a valve can be closed to cease the leak and errors can be suppressed to permit the countdown to proceed to check different rocket parts and launch procedures.

Ms. Blackwell-Thompson authorized the plans, and the countdown continued till, as anticipated, the countdown terminated with 29 seconds left. The liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen had been then drained from the rocket.

On Tuesday, NASA officers mentioned they wanted to sift by the information to see what they could nonetheless must do earlier than they really feel they’re able to launch the rocket. The Space Launch System and Orion, the capsule on high the place astronauts will sit, are important parts for Artemis, NASA’s program to ship astronauts again to the moon.

Still NASA officers had been ecstatic with the progress.

Thomas Whitmeyer, NASA’s deputy affiliate administrator for frequent exploration methods improvement, mentioned that filling the propellant tanks and counting down so near zero had been main milestones.

“We’re looking at the pieces of the puzzle to decide what are the pieces that we didn’t get,” Mr. Whitmeyer mentioned. “But we also got an awful lot of pieces to the puzzle put together, and we have a pretty good idea of what the puzzle looks like at this point.”

In April, three tries to conduct a moist costume rehearsal all ended early due to a wide range of issues.

The rocket was rolled back to a giant garage referred to as the Vehicle Assembly Building the place technicians might extra readily diagnose the issues and make repairs. The hiatus additionally allowed time for an off-site vendor to improve its facility that offered nitrogen fuel — used to purge hazardous gases — to the Kennedy Space Center. During two of the rehearsal makes an attempt, disruptions within the nitrogen provide delayed the countdowns.

NASA might determined to carry out one other moist costume rehearsal, or it might determine it has sufficient knowledge and roll the rocket again to the Vehicle Assembly Building one final time for remaining preparations for launch, which embody putting in the self-destruct mechanism to destroy the rocket in case one thing goes fallacious throughout flight.

For Artemis 1, the rocket would launch and ship the Orion capsule on a prolonged journey across the moon. It would then circle again on its strategy to re-entering Earth’s ambiance and splashing down for an ocean touchdown.

The second Artemis flight, scheduled for 2024, would have astronauts on board for the same journey, with out touchdown on the moon. Artemis 3 is to be the primary lunar touchdown by astronauts since 1972. NASA has proposed a 2025 date for that crewed journey, nevertheless it might face extra postponements.


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Kenneth Chang

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