Space agency NASA had to abort its Artmemis-1 mission to the moon for the second time in a week, after the discovery of a liquid hydrogen leak during the fuelling of the rocket engine’s tanks.
A similar problem had aborted the scheduled launch of the mission last Sunday (August 29) as well. At that time, there was also an issue of insufficient cooling of one of the four engines of the rocket. Over the week, NASA engineers had worked on the problems and thought they had fixed it. But the liquid hydrogen leakage recurred multiple times during the fuelling ahead of Saturday night’s launch, with engineers continuously engaged in firefighting.
After the leak appeared for the third time, NASA decided to call off the launch.
“We go when we are ready. We don’t go until then… This (launch holdbacks) are part of the space business… We have to be ready for the scrubs (calling off the launch),” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in an interview with NASA TV.
NASA was targeting a two-hour launch window, starting 11.47 pm India time. There are launch windows available on September 5 and September 6, but it was not clear whether NASA would take another shot at sending the mission so soon.
Nelson said the mission management team would explore all the possibilities, but that the launch looked more likely to happen in October now.
“If it has to happen in October, though the launch window opens in early October, it would more likely happen in the middle of October,” he said, citing the scheduled departure of a space crew to the International Space Station in early October.
Nelson, a former US Senator who has himself made a space flight aboard Space Shuttle Columbia’s 24th mission in 1986, said launch postponements were not unexpected. He recalled that his own space flight had gone in the fifth attempt.
Artemis-1 is supposed to be the start of a new generation of interplanetary space missions whose specific purpose is to get humans back on the moon, and then much deeper into space, hopefully on other planets as well. Artemis-1 is not carrying any astronauts though. It is an exploratory mission, meant to set up the foundation for more ambitious missions in the future that aspire to set up permanent base stations on the moon.
Fifty years after the Apollo missions took humans to the lunar surface for the first time, there is a renewed interest now in going back to the moon, this time with the intent of staying longer, set up permanent bases, and use the moon as the launch pad for deep space missions.