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NASA delays Artemis I test flight because of engine issues


NASA's big new moon rocket is still right here on Earth.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This is Artemis launch control with an update. Launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson has called a scrub for today of the attempt of launch of Artemis I and the space launch system with the Orion spacecraft.

SHAPIRO: That was the sound of the rocket's first launch attempt being called off this morning. NASA hoped the rocket would blast off and put a crew capsule in orbit around the moon. The critical test is necessary before the first flight to the moon with astronauts on board. But a technical glitch kept the rocket grounded.

NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce joins us from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Hey, Nell.


SHAPIRO: What happened?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, everything was looking good. The weather was even mostly cooperating. They had some much-dreaded hydrogen leaks while they were filling the fuel tank. That was a problem that had cropped up in dress rehearsals for this launch. But they got beyond that, and they filled up the fuel tanks. So people were feeling good. But then they had another problem. Basically, they weren't able to get one of the rocket's engines to the temperature that it needed to be for launch.

SHAPIRO: And had that ever cropped up in the dress rehearsals?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: It turns out they never tested this engine cool down in those dress rehearsals here at Kennedy Space Center for various reasons. They did do a test of this at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and that had gone OK. So they were relying on that. They're going back now and looking at the data. But, you know, things are a little bit up in the air right now, except for the rocket, of course.

SHAPIRO: Right. There had been such a big build-up to this launch. People were, like, camping out all weekend long. What's the mood there now that it's been scuttled?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yeah. I mean, hundreds of reporters were here. There were astronauts. Vice President Kamala Harris came down. NASA had been working towards this for a decade, and people were really excited. But launch delays are nothing new in the space business. You know, this is something this space center's dealt with lots before. And the mission manager for the Artemis moon program is Mike Sarafin. And he was pretty philosophical. Here's what he said at a press briefing.


MIKE SARAFIN: Seeing smoke and fire is something that everybody enjoys, but we're not going to let another hurdle deter us from trying to achieve that next step. And yeah, you know, this is an incredibly hard business. We're trying to do something that hasn't been done in over 50 years.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So this 32-story-tall rocket is actually made with technology that dates back to the space shuttle days, but it's never been put together in quite this way. So it's not surprising that if you've got this big new complex thing, that there'd be some, you know, problems getting it off the launch pad for the first time.

SHAPIRO: And I'm sure in the Apollo days, there were lots of delays, right?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Right. You know, the space shuttle had delays. And in the days of Apollo, when they were developing the Saturn V rocket, there were launch delays, although one NASA official here pointed out that in the days of Apollo, they were trying to launch a rocket to do things that had never been done before. And, of course, that's not the case now.

SHAPIRO: So what's the solution? Is it just unplug it and plug it back in again?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: (Laughter) They're thinking it over. They're going to meet tomorrow and discuss it. They have another launch opportunity on Friday and one more on Monday if they can be ready by then. But if they have to take it back to the big vehicle assembly building here to do repairs, then probably you're not looking at launch before October.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Thanks for your reporting.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.