CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida –
NASA fueled its massive moon rocket for the first time on Monday and conducted a critical countdown test despite a fuel line leak.
It was NASA’s fourth crack at the all-important dress rehearsal, the last major milestone before the long-awaited moon rocket launch.
Previous attempts in April were thwarted by a fuel leak, as well as stuck valves and other technical issues.
Another leak – this time in an external fuel line – nearly halted Monday’s test at Kennedy Space Center. But NASA officials decided to do the countdown test anyway.
Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said they moved forward to see “how the team worked, how the hardware worked, and they both worked really well.”
Engineers wanted to go down to the 9 second mark – just before engine ignition – to validate all systems and procedures. But he cut at 29 seconds. NASA spokesman Derrol Nail said it was not immediately clear why the countdown had stopped.
Earlier, nearly 1 million gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen were loaded into the 322-foot (98-meter) rocket known as the Space Launch System, or SLS.
Testing delays pushed the actual launch – with an empty Orion capsule flying around the moon and back – back to late August at the earliest. This test flight is crucial before astronauts board.
Blackwell-Thompson said it was too early to tell what NASA’s next step might be.
The second SLS flight, scheduled for 2024, would send a crew around the moon and back. The third mission – not before 2025 – would have astronauts actually landing on the moon.
Astronauts last walked on the moon in 1972 during NASA’s Apollo program. The new program is called Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology.