NASA plans to launch its new mega Moon rocket in less than a week after the massive machine withstood a hurricane.
“Our time is coming. And we hope that that is on Wednesday,” said Mike Sarafin, the manager of the much-delayed Artemis 1 mission, at NASA headquarters.
The Artemis 1 mission, a test flight without astronauts, represents the first step in the US space agency’s plan to build a lasting presence on the Moon and take lessons from there to prepare for a future voyage to Mars.
Named after the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, the new space program comes 50 years after humans last set foot on lunar soil.
The first launch of the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful ever designed by NASA, is set for Wednesday at 1:04 am local time (0604 GMT), with a possible launch window of two hours.
The countdown has already begun at the storied Kennedy Space Center, where the orange and white behemoth awaits its maiden flight. The takeoff is scheduled less than a week after the passage of Hurricane Nicole, which the rocket endured outside on its launch pad.
For now, officials are evaluating the risk associated with hurricane damage to a thin strip of caulk-like material called RTV, which encircles the Orion crew capsule atop the rocket, and makes it more aerodynamic.
Teams are looking at whether the RTV could shake loose during launch and pose problems. Two backup dates are possible if needed, on November 19 and 25.
The weather is mild, with a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions during the launch window. At the end of September, the rocket had to be wheeled back to its assembly building to be sheltered from another hurricane, Ian.