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Objective Moon: 2nd test for NASA’s mega-rocket, a fuel leak delays preparations

The orange and white SLS rocket, which will be the first flight from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is the most powerful in the world.

Takeoff is scheduled for 2:17 p.m. local time (6:17 p.m. GMT, 8:17 p.m. Brussels), with a possible delay of up to two hours. Weather conditions are 60% favorable at the start of this shooting window, then gradually improve to 80%.

Shortly before 6 a.m. local time, Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson gave the go-ahead to begin filling the rocket’s tanks with cryogenic fuel — a total of about three million liters of hydrogen and ultra-cold liquid oxygen.

But a little over an hour later, a leak was detected at the foot of the rocket, at the level of the pipe through which the hydrogen passes to the tank. The flow was stopped while the teams searched for a solution. NASA did not immediately say how much this issue might or might not affect takeoff time.

Monday, during a first attempt, the launch had been canceled at the last moment because of technical problems, in particular on the cooling of the engines.

In the event of a new impediment on Saturday, take-off could possibly be rescheduled for Monday or Tuesday. It would then be necessary to wait until September 19 at the earliest, because of the positions of the Earth and the Moon.

The purpose of this unmanned mission, named Artemis 1, is to verify that the Orion capsule, at the top of the rocket, is safe to transport astronauts in the future.

Thanks to this new vessel, the American space agency intends to reconnect with distant human exploration, the Moon being 1,000 times further away than the International Space Station.

Above all, 50 years after the last Apollo mission, NASA intends this time to establish a lasting human presence there, in order to make it a springboard for a trip to Mars.

The name Artemis was chosen after a female figure, the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo — echoing the Apollo program, which sent only white men to the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972.

This time, NASA wants to allow the first person of color and the first woman to walk on the Moon.