NASA is rolling full steam ahead with launch preparations into tonight’s Artemis I launch–and the team sounds confident that tonight is the night.
Liquid hydrogen fueling moved into “topping”–the final stage of filling–just after 6:30 P.M. Liquid oxygen fueling began topping just an hour later.
Previous launch attempts were foiled by leaks during liquid hydrogen fueling. NASA says it thinks “thermal shock” caused those previous issues and decided to push forward with fueling today more slowly–but NASA said at roughly 7:30 P.M. that it was running more than an hour ahead of schedule.
Beyond the hydrogen issues, this milestone in the pre-launch procedures comes after Hurricane Ian impacted a string of proposed launch windows. NASA delayed the original third launch attempt to give mission managers time to resolve the fueling issues. Managers wrestled with whether teams should make repairs at the pad or inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. However, Ian led NASA to roll the Space Launch System and Orion capsule back into the building to protect the equipment from the elements. The rocket only returned to the pad on Friday, November 4.
After its return to the pad, the rocket was left outside to weather Hurricane Nicole. The decision proved controversial to commentators, but NASA officials cited an acceptable risk of damage from the storm’s lower wind speeds as defense for the call.
After an investigation, NASA said the rocket only suffered from minor and what they say is inconsequential insulation peeling and the mission was once again given the ‘go.’
The mission continues with what NASA TV commentator Derrol Nail called a ‘clean count.’
If the launch goes through, the unmanned Artemis I mission will set the stage for an ambitious program to return humanity to the moon after 50 years–including women and people of color. Then, it will press forward with sights set on Mars towards the end of the decade.
Though NASA seems hopeful tonight, a scrub is always a possibility–and experts insist that a called-off launch is not always a bad sign.
Regardless of the result, you can tune into NASA TV to watch the broadcast in dazzling 4K. You can learn what that means and how to best experience it here.