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NASA’s Moon Rocket Exposed to Potential Hurricane on Launch Pad

As Tropical Storm Nicole hurtles toward Florida’s east coast, a $4 billion NASA rocket remains on a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, where it will drive out of the approaching storm.

As Tropical Storm Nicole hurtles toward Florida’s east coast, a $4 billion NASA rocket remains on a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, where it will drive out of the approaching storm.

Nicole is intensifying and is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, potentially putting the Space Launch System’s massive rocket at risk.

NASA estimates that the SLS can withstand gusts of up to 85 mph (74 knots), as well as sustained winds of 46 mph (40 knots). The agency still plans to launch the rocket and unmanned Orion capsule to the moon on Nov. 14, the first of the agency’s Artemis missions, though it’s unclear how the storm will affect that schedule.

“Teams at Kennedy will continue to monitor the weather, ensure all personnel are safe, and will evaluate the status of Monday’s Nov. 14 launch attempt for the Artemis I mission as we move forward and receive updated weather forecasts,” NASA wrote in a blog post.

NASA has not responded to a request for comment regarding specific preparations being made to secure the rocket.

The space center has “HURCON III” status, a level of preparedness for approaching hurricanes in which personnel work to secure the area’s facilities and hardware.

Joel Cline, the National Weather Service’s tropical program coordinator, estimates there is an 80% to 90% chance of sustained tropical winds along the Florida space coast, with gale-force winds approaching the area as early as Wednesday morning. That’s about the threshold NASA said the rocket can handle.

“What they’re telling you is they’re looking for hurricane-force winds and sustained tropical storm-force winds, which is the most likely chance,” Cline said.

In September, when Hurricane Ian was en route to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the SLS was also on the launch pad for its planned mission. Ultimately, though, NASA decided to roll the rocket back into its massive hangar, called the Vehicle Assembly Building, to protect the SLS from the approaching storm.

NASA probably won’t have time to roll back the rocket since it takes about three days to prepare and move the vehicle.

Cline said Kennedy Space Center officials are making regular calls to the National Hurricane Center, along with the Department of Defense and other entities operating in the storm’s path.

Another concern for the Florida coast, Cline said, is that the storm could bring as much as six inches of rain and storm surge of up to three to five feet.

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