NASA is still evaluating possible damage to the Artemis I rocket from Hurricane Nicole, but there is nothing to prevent a launch to the Moon on Wednesday, Nov. 16, a space agency official says. The update comes amid concerns that NASA made a risky decision to leave the rocket at the launch site bare and exposed.
Artemis I rode through the storm, and now NASA is looking at issues on the back side. The human-grade spacecraft will not carry humans — instead, it will carry a NASA mannequin and two European Space Agency mannequin torsos, which will measure the effects of the trip on future astronauts. However, getting it right is critical. A NASA leader told reporters Friday that dissenting voices are important and that the best decision was to leave Artemis I at the launch site.
Artemis I promises to be the first phase of a continued acceleration to return humans to the Moon for the first time since the final Apollo mission nearly half a century ago. And just last week, NASA was staring down the finish line as it prepared the launch vehicle at Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for a launch on Monday, November 14.
When given preliminary data about the weather system that unfortunately later escalated into Hurricane Nicole, NASA officials chose to move forward with releasing Artemis I from its protective garage. It was actually here, inside KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), that NASA sheltered the Moon rocket from the rough winds of Hurricane Ian in late September.
But the forecast didn’t worry them last week like it did during Ian, and they chose to ride. Then, faced with a tougher forecast, NASA officials and their US Space Force colleagues weighed their options between keeping Artemis A out at the launch site exposed to winds or bringing it back inside the VAB.
The team decided that strong winds were a greater risk if Artemis I began a rollover, a slow process that can take up to nine hours. As Jim Free, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA, explained during the press conference, the dynamic motion would change the vehicle’s bearing if it were in motion.
“I think if we had known the night before we were going to be driving that there was going to be a hurricane, we probably would have stayed in the VAB,” Free told reporters Friday.
When asked about the talks, Free insisted that there were no opposing views and that, in the end, everyone agreed to keep Artemis I out there.
“There were some people who talked about, hey, the best place to be is VAB,” Free said. “And I summarize here, but [some said] the storm looks like it’s loosely formed, doesn’t seem to be coming from that direction, we have time to get on board. we have it [wind] limits for Hurricane Ian… so I don’t know that there was anyone who disagreed.
“There were people who really thought hard about whether we should release or not. In the end, everyone agreed that we should roll out. I think we’re always trying and looking, and I’m going to start with myself as a leader, I’m going to try to look for the opposing views,” Free added. “That’s what we learned at Challenger and Columbia.”
So now the next target date is two days later than planned, giving NASA more time to move through the “normal flow” of pre-flight operations, such as activating the rocket and conducting the program’s special engineering test .
If Artemis I remains grounded on November 16, NASA will try again on November 19. And if that fails, the space agency will try again on a newly announced date of November 25.