It’s NASA’s launch day again.
The space agency is aiming to launch its Artemis I lunar mission in the early hours of Wednesday morning after technical difficulties delayed previous attempts over the past three months.
The agency’s towering Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are expected to lift off during a two-hour launch window that opens at 1:04 a.m. ET. If successful, the Artemis I mission would last a total of 26 days before Orion returns to Earth.
The uncrewed launch marks the debut of the most powerful rocket ever built and marks the start of NASA’s long-awaited return to the lunar surface. It is the first mission in NASA’s Artemis lunar program, which the agency hopes will lead to astronauts landing on the moon through its third mission in 2025.
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule ready for launch on LC-39B from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Nov. 13, 2022.
While Artemis I won’t carry astronauts or land on the moon, the mission is critical to demonstrating that NASA’s monster rocket and space capsule can deliver on their promised capabilities.
Artemis I is five years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. More than $40 billion has already been spent on the program, much of it for the development of SLS and Orion. The system comes with a per-launch price tag of $4.1 billion.
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NASA first attempted to launch Artemis I in August, but has since called off multiple attempts after discovering technical problems with the rocket’s engines.
In September, the agency rolled the missile back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for Hurricane Ian protection, returning the vehicle to the LC-39B launch pad on November 3.
NASA left SLS and Orion on the launch pad last week to weather the winds of Hurricane Nicole.
NASA said it checked the rocket and spacecraft after the storm passed and found no major damage to the vehicle. It said a 10-foot piece of insulation near the Orion capsule had pulled away due to high winds — but NASA decided to go ahead with Wednesday’s launch attempt after an analysis showed it is not expected to cause significant damage if the insulation comes off. falls during launch.
If necessary, NASA has scheduled a backup launch date for November 19.