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Hurricane threat prompts NASA to delay next lunar rocket launch attempt

NASA will land its large new moon rocket on the launch pad to drive out a hurricane expected to hit near Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA will land its large new moon rocket on the launch pad to drive out a hurricane expected to hit near Cape Canaveral, Florida, and next week’s target launch time has been delayed by two days, the US space agency said Monday.

Kennedy Space Center sits in the middle of a 240-mile stretch of Florida’s Atlantic coast, where forecasters say Tropical Storm Nicole is likely to hit as a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday evening or early Thursday.

As of Tuesday night, Nicole picked up maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour (100 kph) and gained strength as it headed for the northern Bahamas en route to Florida, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center reported.

A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74-95 mph (119-153 kph).

NASA’s next-generation rocket, 32 stories high, rolled out to its launch pad last week for what would be a third attempt to get it off the ground for its inaugural, unmanned flight to the moon and back.

The flight, which marks the first mission of NASA’s ambitious new Artemis lunar exploration program, was scheduled for next Monday.

Nicole’s approach prompted NASA to delay that launch window by at least two days, to Wednesday, Nov. 16, giving workers extra time to care for families and homes before the storm and then prepare the rocket for flight.

NASA said it would keep the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule attached to the launch pad during the storm rather than attempting to roll the spacecraft back to its hangar — a nearly 12-hour undertaking that involves additional risks with entails.

If the giant tractor track that carried the rocket to and from its hangar broke, the spacecraft could be more vulnerable, said Mark Burger, a launch weather officer for the Cape’s U.S. Space Force Station.

“It could be many hours sitting on the crawlspace, exposed to the forces of the wind, and that would be the absolute worst-case scenario,” Burger told Reuters.

The rocket is built to withstand exposure to heavy rain and winds up to 85 mph, according to the upper limit predicted at the Cape, NASA said.

In preparation for the storm, teams shut down the spacecraft’s systems and took steps to secure the rocket and other equipment at the site. A ride-out team was assigned to remain at the complex and monitor conditions during the storm.

Two previous Artemis I launch attempts on August 29 and September 3 were aborted due to technical problems and the missile was returned to its hangar due to Hurricane Ian.

If Artemis I takes off on Nov. 16, during a two-hour launch window that opens at 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT), the Orion capsule would return to Earth on Dec. 11 for a landing, NASA said. A backup launch date was set for November 19.

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