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NASA sets Artemis’ next launch attempt for Wednesday.

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NASA is pushing ahead with its next attempt to launch its giant Space Launch System lunar rocket, officials said Friday, days after it was battered by Hurricane Nicole as it sat unprotected on its launch pad at Kennedy Space. Center.

Space agency executives said despite winds exceeding 80 mph, the vehicle suffered no significant damage, allowing them to continue launch plans into the wee hours of Wednesday morning Eastern Time. . The two-hour launch window would open at 1:04 a.m.

It would be the third time NASA has attempted to send Orion’s crew capsule, with no one on board, into orbit around the moon, as part of a campaign, known as the Artemis program, to bring astronauts back to the lunar surface. Two previous launch efforts were postponed due to mechanical issues.

Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development, told reporters that wind speed at the pad as Hurricane Nicole hit the Florida coast on Thursday did not exceed the limits the rocket was designed for, and although there was some minor damage, such as bits of putty that serve as putty that come off, none of this would force NASA to delay again.

“We design it to be out there,” he said. “And if we didn’t design it to be out there in bad weather, we picked the wrong launch point, and we should design the vehicle better.”

NASA has suffered all sorts of setbacks trying to get its SLS rocket off the ground, adding to the long saga of a program born a decade ago. Launch attempts in August and September were marred by faulty engine sensor readings and persistent hydrogen leaks. Then, when NASA officials said they were confident they had finally ironed out all the issues, they were forced to return the rocket to its assembly building when Hurricane Ian approached the peninsula. from Florida in September.

They returned the rocket to its pedestal at Kennedy Space Center last week, saying they did not believe the storm that became Hurricane Nicole would materialize into a storm that could threaten the vehicle, which officials say NASA, is designed to withstand wind gusts of 85 mph. As the storm strengthened and approached, NASA leaders decided to keep the SLS on the pad – a move meteorologists criticized.

“We took the decision to keep Orion and SLS on the launch pad very seriously, reviewing the data in front of us and making the best decision possible with high uncertainty to predict the four-day weather forecast,” NASA said. in a statement Thursday. “With the unexpected change in forecast, the return to the Vehicle Assembly Building was deemed too risky in high winds, and the team decided the launch pad was the safest place for the rocket to confront. storm.”

In a statement Friday, AccuWeather criticized the move, saying its meteorologists had “warned of a 60% chance wind gusts could reach up to 85 mph or more near Kennedy Space Center.”

The decision to keep the rocket on the pad “raises serious questions about NASA’s procedures for weather hazard mitigation and preparedness based on available forecasts, particularly over the weekend, given that several days’ notice is required to return the rocket safely to the VAB”. said Jonathan Porter, AccuWeather’s chief meteorologist.

Free said that by the time it was clear the storm could indeed threaten the Space Coast, it was too late to roll it back, a process that can take half a day and add more wear and tear to the vehicle, especially by strong winds.

“We obviously wouldn’t have wanted to stay there,” he said. “The best place for the vehicle in this kind of [conditions] is the VAB. But we couldn’t come back to the VAB and be safe.

He added that if the agency had known last week that the storm was going to become a hurricane, “we probably would have stayed in the VAB. I think it’s safe to say.

If the Artemis I mission succeeds in sending Orion safely to the moon and back, NASA intends to follow it up with Artemis II, a lunar orbit flight with astronauts. This flight is now scheduled for 2024, with a human landing on the surface as early as 2025.