With Hurricane Ian bearing down on the Florida coast, NASA has decided to move its multibillion-dollar Space Launch System moon rocket to safety.
For days, NASA and weather forecasters had been watching the storm take shape in the Caribbean Sea, and they made advance preparations for a rollback from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Over the weekend, mission managers decided not to proceed with a third attempt on Tuesday to launch the 322-foot-tall, 5.7 million-pound rocket on NASA’s Artemis 1 round-the-moon mission. And today they decided to go ahead with the rollback, which is set to begin at 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. PT).
In a blog posting, NASA said the team “made the decision based on the latest weather predictions associated with Hurricane Ian, after additional data gathered overnight did not show improving expected conditions for the Kennedy Space Center area.”
“The decision allows time for employees to address the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system,” NASA said.
Over the course of several hours, NASA’s massive crawler-transporter will carry the SLS rocket on a 4-mile trek back to the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building, at a maximum speed of a mile an hour.
Rolling back the rocket is likely to delay the next launch attempt until late October or November. Liftoff already had been postponed twice before, due to technical issues with the rocket’s fueling system — issues that NASA says have now been resolved. While the SLS is in the Vehicle Assembly Building, NASA plans to switch out batteries and perform other maintenance tasks that had been put off in hopes of making a launch attempt.
The inaugural launch of the Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever built for NASA, would mark the start of a spaceflight that’s been more than a decade and billions of dollars in the making.
The Artemis 1 mission calls for the SLS to send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a looping, weeks-long trip around the moon and back. Sensors hooked up to three mannequins will collect data about radiation exposure, temperature and other environmental factors. Orion will also be carrying an experimental Alexa-style voice assistant — created by Amazon in partnership with NASA, Lockheed Martin and Cisco — that could be used on future crewed missions.
If Artemis 1 is successful, that would set the stage for a crewed round-the-moon mission known as Artemis 2 in 2024, and then an Artemis 3 moon landing that could happen as early as 2025.
Update for 11:15 a.m. PT Sept. 27: The Space Launch System rocket and the Orion capsule are secure inside the Vehicle Assembly Building after a 10-hour trip from Launch Complex 39B aboard NASA’s crawler-transporter.