Fuel leak thwarts NASA’s dress rehearsal for moon rocket

NASA’s latest attempt to fuel its massive moon rocket for a countdown test was thwarted on April 14 by a dangerous hydrogen leak, the latest in a series of pesky equipment problems.

The launch team had just started loading fuel into the rocket’s core when the leak surfaced. This was NASA’s third chance at a dress rehearsal, a required step for a test flight to the moon.

This time, the launch team managed to load some super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen into the core of the 30-story Space Launch System rocket, but fell well short of the full amount. Liquid hydrogen is extremely dangerous, with officials noting that the systems had been checked for leaks prior to the test.

Technicians deliberately left the smaller top stage empty after discovering a bad valve last week. The helium valve in the top stage cannot be replaced until the rocket is back in its hangar at the Kennedy Space Center.

Two previous countdown attempts were marred by noisy fans and a large manual valve that left workers accidentally closed on the trail last week.

Officials said via Twitter that they are assessing their next steps.

NASA had targeted June for the launch debut of the 322-foot (98-meter) SLS rocket. The empty Orion capsule on top is sent on a four- to six-week mission around the moon and back.

Astronauts will strap in for the second test flight around the moon, scheduled for 2024. That would be followed as early as 2025 with the first moon landing by astronauts since 1972. NASA plans to announce crews for these two missions this summer.

SOURCE – www.thehindu.com

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