NASA’s mega-moon rocket ready to lift off on eve of first Artemis mission

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Aug 28 (Reuters) – Launch crews at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida spent a final full day of preparation ahead of Monday’s scheduled liftoff of NASA’s giant next-generation rocket on its maiden flight. essay, kicking off the agency’s Artemis moon-to-Mars program 50 years after Apollo ended.

NASA officials said on Sunday that all systems appeared to be ‘gone’ for liftoff, and weather forecasts called for an 80% chance of favorable conditions at the top of Monday’s two-hour launch window, starting at 8:33 a.m. EDT (12:33 GMT). ), decreasing to 60% towards the end of this period.

“So far, everything looks good from a vehicle perspective,” said Jeff Spaulding, NASA’s senior test manager for the historic mission, called Artemis I. look great.

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Although lightning rods at the launch site were struck in a storm on Saturday, Spaulding said he saw “nothing on the ground systems that we are concerned about.” NASA said there was no damage to the spacecraft or launch facilities.

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is ready to launch an unmanned capsule named Orion around the moon and back on a six-week test flight designed to put the two vehicles through their paces before flying astronauts on a later mission scheduled for 2024. The 98-meter (322-foot) tall SLS-Orion combo forms the centerpiece of the U.S. space agency’s successor to the Apollo lunar program of the 1960s and 1970s .

If these two missions are successful, NASA aims to land astronauts on the moon, including the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface, as early as 2025, although many experts believe that deadline could slip by a few years. . . The last humans to walk on the moon were the two-man Apollo 17 descent team in 1972, following in the footsteps of 10 other astronauts on five previous missions beginning with Apollo 11 in 1969.

The Artemis program aims to eventually establish a long-term lunar base as a stepping stone to even more ambitious astronaut journeys to Mars, a goal that NASA officials say will likely take at least until the end of the years. 2030 to be reached.

SLS has been in development for over a decade, with years of delays and cost overruns. But the Artemis program has also generated tens of thousands of jobs and billions of trade dollars under major contractors Boeing Co (BA.N) for SLS and Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) for Orion.

The only issue NASA officials were watching for Sunday ahead of SLS’s maiden flight was a potential – but minor – leak of helium in launch pad equipment, although Spaulding told reporters at a conference call. press release the day before the launch that he wasn’t expecting any technical spectacle. countdown.

“This is a test flight, remember that,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in an interview with Reuters that was interrupted by an unexpected phone call from U.S. Vice President Kamala. Harris, who will be in Florida to see the rocket launch in person.

“She’s excited!” Nelson said after the call.

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Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Simao

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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