CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA began the countdown Monday to this week’s planned launch of its New Moon rocket, although damage from a hurricane could cause another delay to a test flight.
Strong winds from Hurricane Nicole caused a 10-foot (3-meter) section of sealing on top of the rocket to peel off near the crew capsule last Thursday. Mission managers want to be sure the narrow strip won’t damage the rocket if it tears off during launch. A final decision was expected Monday evening.
The launch is scheduled for early Wednesday morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and will carry test dummies instead of astronauts. This is the first test flight of the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket, the most powerful NASA has ever built, and will attempt to send a capsule into lunar orbit.
The nearly $4 billion mission has been grounded since August due to a fuel leak and Hurricane Yang, which forced the rocket back into a hangar for shelter in late September. The rocket stayed on the court for Nicole; managers said there wasn’t enough time to move it once it became clear the storm would be stronger than expected.
The space agency plans to send astronauts around the moon in 2024 and land a crew on the lunar surface in 2025.
Astronauts last visited the Moon in December 1972, ending the Apollo program.
Meanwhile, NASA’s microwave-sized satellite arrived in a special lunar orbit on Sunday after a summer launch from New Zealand. In this elongated orbit, which stretches for tens of thousands of miles (kilometers), the space agency plans to build a depot for lunar crews. The intermediate station, known as Gateway, will serve astronauts going to and from the lunar surface.
The satellite, called Capstone, will spend six months testing the navigation system in this orbit.
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