Health and Fitness

NASA’s Space Launch System’s Latest Woes


It is a truth of orbital mechanics that the moon is steadily receding from the Earth. Yearly the space between the 2 worlds grows by 3.78 cm (1.48 in.), or concerning the velocity at which our fingernails develop. That’s not a lot in comparison with the general 384,472 km (238,900 mi.) common distance between the Earth and the moon, and there’s no motive to fret that the moon will probably be bidding us farewell any time quickly. Nonetheless, ever since April 1—and particularly within the final week—the hole between the Earth and the moon instantly appears wider than ever. For that, you may thank points with the House Launch System (SLS), NASA’s model new mega-rocket designed to return American astronauts to the lunar floor someday this decade.

It was on March 17 that the towering 98 m (322 ft.) rocket emerged from its hangar within the Kennedy House Middle’s Car Meeting Constructing (VAB) and started its gradual creep out to its launch pad. The rocket wasn’t getting set to fly, however slightly to endure what NASA calls a moist costume rehearsal. That entails filling the large machine’s tanks with 2.8 million liters (730,000 gal.) of liquid oxygen and hydrogen gasoline and operating a simulated 45-hour countdown, taking it all the way down to the T-minus 9.3 second mark earlier than stopping the train, draining the gasoline and rolling the SLS again to the VAB for additional readying. The preliminary steps of the train started on April 1, and let’s simply say that if a Broadway-bound present had a costume rehearsal something like what the SLS has had, the entire manufacturing would shut out of city.

As NASA studies in an admirably candid weblog, the final 15 days out at launchpad 39B have concerned one headache after one other, with serial breakdowns repeatedly forcing the countdown to be stopped. Among the many most severe issues is a caught helium valve on the rocket’s second stage that has prevented that stage from being loaded with gasoline. The issue can’t be repaired on the pad, however solely again within the VAB—that means that even when the remainder of the work went completely, the wet-dress rehearsal would nonetheless not be run to its deliberate completion.

And the remainder of the work is certainly not going completely. Among the many different issues to beset the large rocket over the previous two weeks: a liquid hydrogen leak in one of many automobile’s umbilical cords; temperature fluctuations within the supercold liquid oxygen gasoline which have to be saved at -182º C (-297º F); and a troubling strain surge within the liquid hydrogen movement line. All of this has prevented floor controllers from loading the liquid hydrogen tank to extra than simply 5% of its capability and the liquid oxygen tank to greater than 49%.

NASA has not mentioned what number of extra instances it is going to try wet-dress rehearsals earlier than giving up. What it has mentioned is that, a technique or one other, it is going to keep on the job and that the SLS will finally fly. For that little bit of cockeyed optimism, NASA has historical past on its facet. As veteran area reporter Invoice Harwood of CBS studies, again within the Nineteen Sixties, an meant six-day countdown of the venerable Saturn V rocket took 17 days to finish—longer than the SLS has to this point been at it. As historical past notes, the Saturn V finally flew, taking 9 crews of astronauts to the moon and again. Could the SLS have the identical success.

This story initially appeared in TIME House, our weekly e-newsletter overlaying all issues area. You may enroll right here.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.



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