CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA has begun tanking up its giant new rocket for a debut launch to the moon.
The space agency began fueling the Artemis 1 mission’s towering Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at about 2:06 a.m. EDT (0606 GMT), after a nearly hour-long delay due to a lightning risk from nearby storms. The launch is set for 8:33 a.m. EDT (1233 GMT) from Pad 39B here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
“The weather delay at midnight cost the team about an hour, but the hope is that they can make up that hour” later in the fueling process, NASA spokesperson Derrol Nail said during live commentary.
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NASA hoped to begin fueling the Artemis 1 moon rocket with its 730,000 gallons (2.8 million liters) of super-chilled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellant at 12 a.m. EDT (0400 GMT). But a ring of storms that NASA described as “Whac-A-Mole” (they kept popping back up) prompted lightning concerns as they crept within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of the launch pad. According to NASA’s weather rules, fueling operations for Artemis 1 cannot begin when storms are within that 5-mile ring or there’s a greater than 20% chance of lightning during the first hour of fueling. Both rules were violated in that first hour, Nail said.
NASA has a two-hour window in which to launch the Artemis 1 mission today. That window closes at 10:33 a.m. EDT (1433 GMT), after which the agency would have to stand down until Sept. 2. A second backup date is also available on Sept. 5.
The Artemis 1 mission is NASA’s first test flight of its Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon by the mid-2020s, including landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. On Artemis 1, SLS will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a 42-day shakedown flight around the moon. The spacecraft will return to Earth on Oct. 10.
If all goes well, NASA will follow Artemis 1 with the Artemis 2 mission, a crewed flyby around the moon set for 2024, and then with Artemis 3, the first crewed landing, in 2025 or 2026.
Editor’s note: Follow our Artemis 1 mission live updates page for the latest on Artemis 1 mission news.