CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA on Monday refueled its giant lunar rocket for the first time, conducting a critical countdown test despite a leak in the fuel line.
This was NASA’s fourth crack in the all-important dress rehearsal, the last major milestone before the long-awaited launch debut of the lunar rocket.
The previous attempts in April were thwarted by a fuel leak, stuck valves and other technical problems.
Another leak – this time in an external fuel line – nearly shortened Monday’s test at the Kennedy Space Center. But NASA executives decided to do the countdown test anyway.
Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said they went ahead to see “how the team performed, how the hardware performed, and both did very well.”
Engineers wanted to get down to the 9 second mark – just before engine ignition – to validate all systems and procedures. But it broke off at 29 seconds. NASA spokesman Derrol Nail said it was not immediately known why the countdown stopped.
Previously, nearly 1 million gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen were loaded into the 98-meter rocket known as the Space Launch System, or SLS.
Testing delays have pushed back the actual launch — with an empty Orion capsule flying around the moon and back — to late August at the earliest. This test flight is crucial before astronauts climb aboard.
Blackwell-Thompson said it’s too early to tell what NASA’s next move might be.
Planned for 2024, the second SLS flight would send a crew around the moon and back. On the third mission – in 2025 at the earliest – astronauts would actually land on the moon.
Astronauts last walked on the moon in 1972 during NASA’s Apollo program. The new program is called Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.
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