CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – NASA’s latest attempt to burn its huge lunar rocket for a countdown test was thwarted on Thursday by a dangerous hydrogen leak, the latest in a series of annoying equipment problems.
The launch team had just started refueling in the rocket’s core stage when the leak appeared. This was NASA’s third shot at a test, a required step ahead of a test flight to the moon.
This time, the launch team managed to let some super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen into the core stage of the 30-story Space Launch System rocket, but came far from the full amount. Liquid hydrogen is extremely dangerous, and officials note that the systems had been checked for leaks before the test.
Technicians deliberately left the smaller top step empty after discovering a bad valve last week. The helium valve inside the top step cannot be replaced until the rocket is back in its hangar at the Kennedy Space Center.
Two previous countdown attempts were marred by crooked fans and a large hand-operated valve, which the workers accidentally let close by the pillow last week.
Officials said via Twitter that they are considering their next move.
NASA had targeted June for the launch of the 322-foot (98-meter) SLS rocket. The empty Orion capsule on top will be sent on a four- to six-week mission around the moon and back.
Astronauts will be strapped to the second test flight around the moon, scheduled for 2024. It would be followed as early as 2025 with the first lunar landing of astronauts since 1972. NASA plans to announce the crews for these two missions this summer.
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