NASA is evacuating its prized moon rocket from its Florida launchpad as Hurricane Ian approaches




  • In Science
  • 2022-09-26 22:02:28Z
  • By Business Insider
flat wide platform with wheels on a runway in front of giant orange rocket against blue sky
flat wide platform with wheels on a runway in front of giant orange rocket against blue sky  
  • NASA was poised to launch its Space Launch System moon rocket for the first time Tuesday.

  • Hurricane Ian is forcing the agency to roll SLS into a vertical steel building for shelter.

  • That means a 4-mile, 10-hour journey for the rocket and possibly another month of delays.

NASA has overcome technical challenges, bureaucracy, and changes of leadership to get its new moon rocket to the launchpad. Now a major hurricane may be its last obstacle to launch.

The Space Launch System (SLS) is the 30-story-high, $50 million rocket that NASA has spent 17 years building in order to carry out its new lunar missions, a program called Artemis. After years of delays and two scrubbed launch attempts, the agency was ready to try its first liftoff again on Tuesday.

Now, NASA is rushing to return the treasured rocket to shelter from Hurricane Ian in its Vehicle Assembly Building. The agency is preparing to roll the rocket away from the launchpad Monday evening, spend about 10 hours slowly crawling it 4.2 miles down a runway, and tuck it safely in the vertical steel building.

NASA aims to start the rollback at 11 p.m. ET, and it's broadcasting from the launchpad (complete with clouds and drizzles) below.

This could deal a major delay to the rocket's first flight, a mission called Artemis I. Now it might not launch until November, according to Eric Berger, senior space editor at Ars Technica.

The mission aims to launch an uncrewed Orion spaceship on a wide trajectory around the moon, testing the hardware for later flights with astronauts.

NASA aims to use SLS and Orion (along with SpaceX's Starship) to land astronauts on the moon in 2025 - the first moonwalk since 1972. But industry wonks and regulators have said that timeline is overly optimistic. Every new delay to Artemis I makes a 2025 landing less and less likely.

Hurricane Ian is brewing trouble for Florida

satellite image colorful infrared shows red hurrican ian approaching florida
satellite image colorful infrared shows red hurrican ian approaching florida  

Hurricane Ian is forecast to rapidly strengthen from its current Category 2 status to a major Category 3 hurricane with wind speeds of 111 mph or greater by the time it reaches the Florida coast.

This swift change is called rapid intensification - a process in which a tropical cyclone's maximum sustained winds increase by 35 mph in just 24 hours. It's usually fueled by warm water. Scientists expect it to happen more often as climate change leads to higher temperatures in the oceans, especially the Gulf of Mexico.

In fact, it's already happening. In a 2020 study, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that each new decade over the last 40 years has brought an 8% increase in the chance that a storm turns into a major hurricane.

Ian will be climbing Florida's Gulf Coast, while SLS is located on the Atlantic side at Cape Canaveral. Still, the entire peninsula is expected to be inundated with heavy rainfall. Those conditions make rocket launches dangerous, since there's a high risk of damage or interference as the rocket ascends.

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