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NASA moon rocket on track for launch despite lightning hits

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NASA moon rocket on track for launch despite lightning hits

CAPE Canaveral, Fla. (AP)  NASA’s Crescent rocket went ahead as planned on Monday’s pivotal test flight despite a series of lightning strikes on the launch pad.

It is the very thinking object that The 322-foot (98-meter) Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA. Half a century after NASA’s Apollo program landed 12 astronauts on the moon, it is preparing to send an empty crew capsule into lunar orbit.

NASA officials have warned that the stakes are high and the flight could be disrupted. If the six-week test flight goes well, astronauts could be back on the moon in a few years.

In place of astronauts, three test dummies were strapped into the Orion capsule to measure vibrations, accelerations, and radiation, one of the greatest dangers to humans in deep space. One capsule contains more than 1,000 sensors.

Officials said on Sunday that neither the rocket nor the capsule was damaged by Saturday’s thunderstorm. Ground equipment was also unaffected. Five lightning strikes were confirmed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, with a rocket hitting a 600-foot (183 m) tower around it.

NASA’s senior test director Jeff Spaulding said, “Obviously, the system worked as designed.”

More storms are expected. While forecasters gave an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather Monday morning, conditions are expected to worsen during the two-hour launch window.

On the technical side, Spaulding said the team has done everything possible to eliminate fuel leaks in recent months. Earlier this year two countdown tests led to the repair of leaking valves and other faulty equipment; Engineers won’t know if all the fixes are in order until hours before the scheduled takeoff.

After so many years of delays and setbacks, the launch team is excited to finally be so close to the inaugural voyage of the Artemis lunar exploration program, which is named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.

Spaulding told reporters that, “We are now less than 24 hours away from launch, which is remarkable for where we are on this journey.”

A follow-up Artemis flight in early 2024 will see four astronauts orbit the Moon. The landing could happen in 2025. NASA is targeting the Moon’s unexplored South Pole, where a permanently shadowed crater is thought to store ice for future crews.

The Associated Press Health and Science Division received support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. The Associated Press is solely responsible for all objectives or content.

An Artemis follow-up flight from 2024 will see four astronauts orbit the moon. The landing could take place in 2025. NASA is targeting the moon’s uncharted south pole, where permanently shadowed craters are thought to store ice for future crews.

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