NASA's Artemis 1 moon rocket left its launch pad for safety's sake last night (Sept. 26), only to encounter a bit of drama shortly after arriving at its designated shelter site.
Mission team members rolled the Artemis 1 stack from Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Launch Pad 39B to the facility's huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to protect the valuable hardware from Hurricane Ian, should the storm end up hammering Florida's Space Coast.
Artemis 1 completed the nearly 10-hour trip to the VAB at about 9:15 a.m. EDT (1315 GMT) today (Sept. 27). But just 2.5 hours later, a small fire broke out inside the building. "Employees were evacuated, and there are no reported injuries. The VAB is fire safe, and the Artemis 1 vehicle was not at risk," KSC officials said via Twitter today.
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KSC Director Janet Petro provided a few more details during a previously planned news conference this afternoon.
"I'm told it was a 40-volt electrical panel on the wall of the High Bay 3 that caught fire," she said. The cause is unclear and under investigation, she added, stressing that the flames never got close to Artemis 1.
Artemis 1 will use a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to launch an uncrewed Orion capsule to the moon. NASA had hoped to launch the mission today, but the threat of Hurricane Ian spoiled that plan.
The mission team will perform some work on the Artemis 1 stack while it's riding out the storm in the VAB. It's too soon to speculate about a new target launch date, although a liftoff before November looks unlikely at this point.
"I won't write it off, but it is going to be difficult," Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said during today's briefing, referring to an October launch.
Artemis 1 will be the first launch of the SLS and the first mission of NASA's Artemis program. If all goes well, Artemis 2 will send astronauts around the moon in 2024 and Artemis 3 will put boots on the ground near the lunar south pole a year or so later.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.