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Thursday, March 23, 2023

NASA sticks to plan to launch a rocket to the Moon on Wednesday

NASA said Friday that it plans to attempt its long-delayed unmanned mission to the Moon as scheduled next Wednesday.

NASA said Friday that it plans to attempt its long-delayed unmanned mission to the moon as scheduled next Wednesday, after inspections revealed only minor damage from Hurricane Nicole’s passage through Florida.

Jim Free, a senior US space agency official, told reporters “nothing was preventing” a launch on that date and said NASA teams managed to gain access to the launch pad on Thursday.

The launch of the heavy-lift rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA contractors, will take place at 01:04 am local time (0604 GMT) on Wednesday, with a possible launch window of two hours.

The unmanned mission, dubbed Artemis 1, will bring the United States one step closer to returning astronauts to the Moon five decades after humans last walked the lunar surface.

The rocket will propel the empty Orion manned capsule to the Moon, without landing on its surface. If the launch goes ahead as planned, the mission will last 25 1/2 days before the capsule returns on December 11 with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

However, the US space agency has “some work to do” before launch, Free said, such as powering up the vehicle and running some technical tests.

It may be necessary to replace an element in the base of the rocket, which may have been damaged.

The long-awaited launch has already been delayed three times in as many months.

Free, who is NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, said two backup launch dates have been set for Nov. 19 and Nov. 25, if needed.

Winds from Hurricane Nicole, a Category 1 storm, lashed the rocket while it was on its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. However, the wind speed did not exceed the limits that the vehicle can withstand, Free said.

However, he admitted that if NASA had known the hurricane was coming, the SLS rocket would have stayed in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The rocket was returned to the building in September to protect it from Hurricane Ian, but was brought back to the launch pad a few days before Nicole arrived.

Artemis 1 will mark the launch of the flagship Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, by 2025 at the earliest.

NASA wants to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, including building a space station in orbit around the Moon. This is seen as a step that could lead to the first trip to Mars.

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