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Approaching storm may delay launch try for NASA moon rocket

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – An approaching storm threatens to delay NASA’s next attempt to launch its new lunar rocket, which has already been stalled for weeks due to a fuel leak.

A tropical depression in the southern Caribbean is moving toward Florida and could become a major hurricane.

Managers announced Friday that the rocket is now ready to launch on its first test flight, after overcoming further hydrogen leakage during a refueling test earlier in the week. This will be the first time a crew capsule has orbited the Moon in 50 years; The spacecraft will carry mannequins but not astronauts.

Teams will continue to monitor forecasts and decide no later than Saturday whether to not only delay the test flight, but also pull the missile off the platform and back into the hangar. It’s not clear when the next launch attempt will be – whether in October or even November – if the rocket should seek refuge inside.

Best would be to stay on the launch pad and try to take off on Tuesday, said Tom Whitemaier, associate deputy director of Exploration Systems, “but there are still some uncertainties in the outlook.”

It takes three days of preparations to return the rocket to the Kennedy Space Center’s Giant Vehicle Assembly Building, a 4-mile (6.4 km) journey that takes several hours.

“I don’t think we’re going to cut it any closer,” Whitmire told reporters. “We just take a step at a time.”

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The 322-foot (98 m) rocket can withstand wind gusts of up to 85 mph (137 km/h) at the platform, but only 46 mph (74 km/h) once in motion.

This will be the third attempt to launch the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful rocket NASA has ever made. Fuel leaks and other technical problems called off the first two attempts in late August and early September.

Although hydrogen fuel leaked through newly installed seals during Wednesday’s rehearsal, the launch team was able to reduce the leak to acceptable levels by slowing the flow and reducing pressure in the lines. That gave the launch team confidence to go ahead with Tuesday’s launch attempt, officials said.

Administrators said the 30-year space shuttle program has also seen plenty of hydrogen fuel leaks and hurricane-related declines. The main engines of the moon rocket are actually upgraded versions of what flew on the shuttles.

Also, Space Force has expanded certification of the onboard batteries that are part of the flight safety system — at least until the beginning of October.

NASA has only two chances to launch the rocket — Tuesday and October 2 — before the two-week blackout period begins. The next launch period will open on October 17th.

Astronauts will board the second test flight around the Moon in 2024. The third mission, targeted for 2025, will see a pair of astronauts land on the Moon.

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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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