Nasa is skipping Tuesday’s launch attempt of its new moon rocket over concerns about a tropical storm headed to Florida that could become a major hurricane.
It’s the third delay in the past month for the lunar-orbiting test flight featuring mannequins but no astronauts, a follow-up to Nasa’s Apollo moon-landing program of a half-century ago.
Hydrogen fuel leaks and other technical issues caused the previous scrubs.
Currently churning in the Caribbean, tropical storm Ian is expected to become a hurricane by Monday and slam into Florida’s Gulf coast by Thursday.
The entire state, however, is in the cone showing the probable path of the storm’s center, including Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center.
Given the forecast uncertainties, Nasa decided on Saturday to forgo Tuesday’s planned launch attempt and instead prepare the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket for a possible return to its hangar. Managers will decide on Sunday whether to haul it off the launch pad.
If the rocket remains at the pad, Nasa could try for a 2 October launch attempt, the last opportunity before a two-week blackout period. But a rollback late on Sunday or early on Monday would likely mean a lengthy delay for the test flight, possibly pushing it into November.
Artemis I, the uncrewed test flight, signals a major turning point for Nasa’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program, after decades focused on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station.
Named for the goddess who was Apollo’s twin sister in ancient Greek mythology, Artemis will be headed to the moon, as a stepping stone for a future flight to Mars. The Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful ever built by Nasa.
Assuming its first test flight goes well, astronauts would climb aboard for the next mission in 2024, leading to a two-person moon landing in 2025.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report