CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA has begun tanking up its giant new rocket for a debut launch to the moon.
The space agency began fueling the Artemis 1 mission's towering Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at about 2:06 a.m. EDT (0606 GMT), after a nearly hour-long delay due to a lightning risk from nearby storms. The launch is set for 8:33 a.m. EDT (1233 GMT) from Pad 39B here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
"The weather delay at midnight cost the team about an hour, but the hope is that they can make up that hour" later in the fueling process, NASA spokesperson Derrol Nail said during live commentary.
NASA hoped to begin fueling the Artemis 1 moon rocket with its 730,000 gallons (2.8 million liters) of super-chilled liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellant at 12 a.m. EDT (0400 GMT). But a ring of storms that NASA described as "Whac-A-Mole" (they kept popping back up) prompted lightning concerns as they crept within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of the launch pad. According to NASA's weather rules, fueling operations for Artemis 1 cannot begin when storms are within that 5-mile ring or there's a greater than 20% chance of lightning during the first hour of fueling. Both rules were violated in that first hour, Nail said.
NASA has a two-hour window in which to launch the Artemis 1 mission today. That window closes at 10:33 a.m. EDT (1433 GMT), after which the agency would have to stand down until Sept. 2. A second backup date is also available on Sept. 5.
The Artemis 1 mission is NASA's first test flight of its Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon by the mid-2020s, including landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. On Artemis 1, SLS will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a 42-day shakedown flight around the moon. The spacecraft will return to Earth on Oct. 10.
Editor's note: Follow our Artemis 1 mission live updates page for the latest on Artemis 1 mission news.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.