The Artemis I rocket is set for launch early Wednesday morning, the latest attempt to send an unmanned capsule near the moon after a series of postponements due to weather and mechanical issues.
NASA pushed back a takeoff scheduled for Monday after Hurricane Nicole made landfall about 85 miles south of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The rocket, which remained on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center during the storm, sustained “minor” damage that would be easy to repair, Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said in a press 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. Eventually, the Artemis expedition could lead to the first crewed space trip to Mars, according to NASA.
The space capsule will travel for roughly 25 days — reaching as close as 60 miles from the moon, and then 40,000 miles above the moon when orbiting over its dark side — before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on Dec 11.
If Artemis is declared ready, a two-hour window will open at 1:04 am ET. If needed, the back-up windows are Saturday, Nov. 19, and Friday, Nov. 25. NASA will broadcast the launch on NASA TV.
The mission has suffered a series of setbacks since an original launch date that was expected to feature Vice President Kamala Harris in attendance among about 100,000 spectators.
NASA called off that initial takeoff, set for Aug. 29, after a defective sensor prevented one of the rocket’s engines from cooling down to a temperature required before ignition.
Days later, a second launch attempt on Sept. 3 was scrubbed after the space agency identified a liquid hydrogen leak.
A third planned launch attempt, on Sept. 27, faced postponement due to Hurricane Ian. The rocket was moved off the launchpad to protect it, as Ian wrought destruction along its path northward from Florida to the Carolinas.
On the whole, the Artemis expedition includes four missions, each of which will cost roughly $4.1 billion. In all, the project will cost up to $93 billion by 2025, according to an audit from the NASA Office of the Inspector General.
If Artemis I is successful, Artemis II will take four astronauts near the moon in 2024. After that, Artemis III will take a crewed spacecraft for a moon 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 astronaut of color to the moon.
NASA hopes the Artemis expedition will enable a crewed trip to Mars in the ensuing years.