BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – NASA is set to attempt the first flight of its behemoth Space Launch System moon rocket Monday morning from Kennedy Space Center.
The Artemis I mission will target the beginning of a two-hour launch window that opens at 8:33 a.m. EDT, marking what NASA has said will be the first integrated flight test of SLS, the Orion spacecraft and supporting ground systems at KSC, factors comprising the agency’s deep space exploration systems. The 45th Weather Squadron on Sunday reported chances of favorable weather for the launch will start well at 80%, but will fall to 60% by 10:33 a.m. EDT.
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If all goes according to plan, the uncrewed Orion spacecraft will eventually leave the summit of the altogether 322-foot-tall SLS Block 1 configuration to travel over 1 million miles to the moon and back again, spending 42 grand days out.
In lieu of astronauts, three test dummies are strapped into the Orion capsule to measure vibration, acceleration and radiation, one of the biggest hazards to humans in deep space. Splashdown of the capsule is currently expected to occur Oct. 10.
Astronauts could return to the moon in a few years, if this six-week test flight goes well. NASA officials caution, however, that the risks are high and the flight could be cut short.
NASA officials on Sunday confirmed no impact to the SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft or ground systems from lightning strikes Saturday. In the update on the agency’s blog, scattered showers were identified as the primary weather concern on launch day, something which could realistically stop the schedule in its tracks.
According to the mission’s weather criteria — a list of reasons to halt different launch operations, including rollout and tanking — liftoff itself will be withheld in a variety of scenarios involving temperature, rain, wind speeds, lightning, clouds and solar activity, including what could possibly be the most simple rule in the whole rundown, bold text included: “Do not launch through precipitation.”
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News 6′s Jerry Askin visited Jetty Park on Sunday to catch up with people who showed up early to claim a spot. Liz Dobbs said she made the drive from Tampa on Friday to get situated as close as possible to the historic launch.
“(We) just want to be as close as we can, hear it, see it,” Dobbs said. “This one is going to be so much bigger and more exciting, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Greg Putira, visiting from elsewhere in Brevard County, said he was most looking forward to hearing another huge rocket take off, NASA’s most powerful rocket ever, in this case.
“Primarily the noise that comes from the space shuttle missions, it’s a phenomenal sound, I haven’t been able to hear it in years,” Putira said. “I’m going to stay all the way through the sixth (of September) just to make sure I get all three chances to watch the launch… really exciting stuff.”
Putira referenced the two backup launch dates that NASA will target in the case of a delay or scrub Monday. At the time of this report, those dates are Friday, Sept. 2, and Monday, Sept. 6. NASA on both dates would also target the beginning of a two-hour launch window, which would open at 12:48 p.m. EDT or 5:12 p.m. EDT, respectively.
Betty Wright owns Southern Charm Cafe in Port Canaveral, and she said launches like Monday’s are boons for local business owners such as herself.
“It draws in a lot of business for the area… for this one, probably a good 40-50% more,” Wright said. “We have seen an increase leading up to the launch this past weekend, people coming in, hotels are already booked… we need that after a long couple of years.”
Another variable in Monday’s flight test will be whether engineers managed to solve a hydrogen leak first found during tanking in SLS wet dress rehearsals earlier this year.
The issue of most importance: NASA won’t know if the leak was fixed until Sunday night when the rocket is fueled again, but agency commentator Derrol Nail said in an Artemis I teleconference Friday that they’re holding out optimism.
“We’ve done the best job we can to repair this leak here. So we’re going to roll this rocket out, we have great confidence, and when we get out there, it’s going to hold,” Nail said. “But you know it’ll be the first time, as you said, that we’ve had it on the pad ready to go since we’ve had that leak, and the hope is that it’s going to hold. We’re going to launch this thing.”
The follow-on Artemis flight, as early as 2024, would see four astronauts flying around the moon. A landing could follow in 2025. NASA is targeting the moon’s unexplored south pole, where permanently shadowed craters are believed to hold ice that could be used by future crews.
Clickorlando.com will stream the launch live.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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