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NASA scrubs Artemis 1 moon rocket launch over concerns about TS Ian, which could hit Florida as hurricane

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA said Saturday that it has decided to cancel the launch of the Artemis 1 moon rocket launch planned for Tuesday because of Tropical Storm Ian.

The Space Launch System rocket atop pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center Friday afternoon. NASA engineers say the rocket can withstand gusts of hurricane-force winds at the launch pad, but hopeful a threatening storm will spare the spaceport. Even so, the forecast for a launch opportunity Tuesday is 80 percent no-go. NASA

In a social media post, the agency said it "foregoing" the launch opportunity in the wake of Ian, which is expected to possibly come to Florida sometime early next week.

Ian is expected to strengthen early next week into a possible Category 3 storm that could bring high winds and heavy rain to the Florida Space Coast.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued a state of emergency that covers over two dozen Florida counties, including Broward and Miami-Dade.

Forecast models are not in complete agreement where the storm will come ashore but much of Florida is in the cone.

The goal of the test flight is to send an unpiloted Orion crew capsule on a long flight around the moon to help pave the way for the first piloted launch in 2024 and a moon-landing mission in the 2025-26 timeframe.

But the Space Launch System rocket's road to launch has been rocky, and the latest weather delay has added to the program's woes.

Tom Whitmeyer, a senior manager at NASA Headquarters, downplayed weather concerns Friday, telling reporters, "it's not even a named storm, it's a tropical depression, number nine. It's very early in it, and some of the traces we've seen go to different directions and go with different speeds and different intensity."

Friday marked 190 days since the SLS rocket was first hauled out to pad 39B for what turned out to be the first in a frustrating series of fueling tests to resolve a variety of technical problems and repeated trouble with hydrogen leaks in quick-disconnect fittings where the volatile propellant enters the base of the rocket.

After three tanking test attempts, a roll back to the VAB for repairs and a fourth test on June 20, engineers hauled the SLS rocket back to the VAB a second time to carry out additional troubleshooting. The rocket was moved back out to the pad in mid-August for a launch attempt on the 29th.

But two attempts in a row were called off because of more hydrogen issues. That prompted launch pad repairs to replace a suspect seal in an 8-inch hydrogen quick-disconnect fitting that leaked earlier.

During a tanking test Wednesday to verify the repair, the fitting leaked again, but engineers were able to get it back down to acceptable levels using lower pressures and flow rates.

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