The launch of the Artemis I rocket is scheduled for early Wednesday morning, the last attempt to send an unmanned capsule near the moon after a series of postponements due to weather conditions and mechanical problems.
NASA postponed a scheduled launch for Monday after Hurricane Nicole made landfall about 85 miles south of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The rocket, which remained on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center during the storm, sustained “minor” damage that would be easily repaired, Jim Free, associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said at a news conference Friday.
The launch marks the first step in an ambitious plan to establish a long-term presence on the moon for scientific discovery and economic development. Ultimately, the Artemis expedition could lead to the first manned space trip to Mars, according to NASA.
The space capsule will travel for about 25 days — as far as 100 km from the moon and then 60,000 km above the moon as it orbits the dark side of the moon — before landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on December 11. .
If Artemis is declared ready, a two-hour window will open at 1:04 AM ET. If needed, the backup windows are Saturday, November 19 and Friday, November 25. NASA will broadcast the launch on NASA TV.
The mission has had a series of setbacks since its original launch date when Vice President Kamala Harris was expected to be present among approximately 100,000 spectators.
NASA halted that first launch, scheduled for Aug. 29, after a faulty sensor prevented one of the rocket’s engines from cooling to a temperature necessary for ignition.
Days later, a second launch attempt on Sept. 3 was scrapped after the space agency identified a liquid hydrogen leak.
A third planned launch attempt, on September 27, was postponed due to Hurricane Ian. The missile was removed from the launch pad to protect it while Ian wreaked havoc along its path north from Florida to the Carolinas.
In total, the Artemis Expedition will include four missions, each of which will cost approximately $4.1 billion. Overall, the project will cost up to $93 billion by 2025, according to an audit by NASA’s Office of the Inspector General.
If Artemis I succeeds, Artemis II will take four astronauts to the moon in 2024. After that, Artemis III will take a crewed spacecraft for a lunar landing. Finally, Artemis IV will fly to a space station near the moon.
Over the course of the Artemis missions, NASA plans to eventually send the first female astronaut and the first colored astronaut to the moon.
NASA hopes that the Artemis expedition will enable a manned journey to Mars in the years to come.