CAPE NO MINERALS, Fla. –
NASA fueled its massive Moon rocket for the first time on Monday and continued with a crucial countdown test despite a fuel line leak.
This is NASA’s fourth crack in the key costume rehearsal, the final major milestone before the long-awaited lunar launch launch.
Previous efforts in April were thwarted by fuel leaks, jammed valves and other technical problems.
Another leak – this time in an external fuel line – nearly interrupted Monday’s test at the Kennedy Space Center. But anyway, NASA managers decided to do the countdown test.
Startup director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said they pushed ahead to see “how the team works, how the hardware works, and both work great.”
Engineers wanted to get all the way to the 9-second mark – in just a short time of the engine firing – to validate all systems and processes. But it cut off at 29 seconds. NASA spokesman Derrol Nail said they didn’t immediately know why the countdown stopped.
Before that, nearly 1 million gallons of supercooled liquid hydrogen and oxygen were loaded onto a 322-foot (98-meter) rocket known as the Space Launch System, or SLS.
Delays in testing have pushed the actual launch – with an empty Orion capsule circling the moon and back – as late as late August. This test flight is crucial before the launches. Astronaut climbs on board.
Blackwell-Thompson said it’s too early to say what NASA’s next step might be.
The second SLS flight, scheduled for 2024, will take a crew around the moon and back. The third mission – no earlier than 2025 – will have astronauts actually land on the moon.
Astronauts last walked on the moon in 1972 during NASA’s Apollo program. The new show is called Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.