By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Staff Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA loaded fuel into its moon rocket Wednesday in a leak test ahead of a launch attempt next week.
The one-day demonstration will determine whether the 98-meter (322-foot) rocket is ready for its first test flight, a lunar-orbiting mission with dummies instead of astronauts.
Managers want to verify repairs to all the hydrogen leaks that messed up the first two launch attempts, as well as previous countdown tests. So much hydrogen escaped during the countdown earlier this month that it more than doubled NASA’s limit.
NASA replaced two seals after the latest delay. One had a small indentation.
“The team is very excited to get through this test. Everyone has been hard at work these past few weeks,” said NASA engineer Wes Mosedale from Kennedy Space Center Launch Control.
Wednesday’s goal: to pump almost 1 million gallons (4 million liters) into the rocket, with minimal or no leaks. That would put NASA on track for a possible launch attempt on Tuesday, provided the US Space Force extends certification of onboard batteries that are part of the flight safety system.
In addition to replacing the seals, NASA altered the fueling process, making it easier to load super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen more slowly. That way, the plumbing should be subject to less stress and a leak is less likely to occur, according to officials.
Once launched, the crew capsule atop the rocket will be the first to orbit the moon in 50 years. The $4.1 billion mission is expected to last more than five weeks and end with a splashdown in the Pacific. The astronauts would come aboard for the second test flight, circling the moon in 2024. The third mission, scheduled for 2025, would see a pair of astronauts land on the moon.
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket is more powerful than the Saturn V rocket that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The engines and thrusters are remnants of the space shuttles now retired. Just like now, NASA struggled with elusive hydrogen leaks during the shuttle era, especially in the early 1990s.
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