NASA delays Artemis launch as Tropical Storm Nicole approaches Florida

NASA has delayed the launch of its next-generation mansion and space capsule to the moon as Florida braces for an approaching storm.

Tropical Storm Nicole, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane on Wednesday, is expected to hit the east coast of Florida, forcing the space agency to reschedule the planned November 14 launch. NASA now aims to launch the Space Launch System rocket without a crew in November. 16, during a two-hour window that opens at 1:04 A.M. ET.

The change was made to ensure workers could prepare for the storm, according to the agency.

“Adjusting the target launch date will allow the workforce to meet the needs of their families and homes and provide sufficient logistical time to return to launch status after the storm,” NASA officials said in a statement.

Artemis I, the mission to the moon, has already been delayed several times as engineers worked to fix a series of dangerous leaks discovered during the refueling process.

The $4.1 billion flight is designed to test both the massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion space capsule before NASA sends astronauts back to the lunar surface.

The rocket is located on Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA said the SLS booster is designed to withstand 85 mph winds and will remain on the launch pad during the storm.

“Current forecasts predict that the greatest risks to the pad are strong winds that are not expected to overcome the SLS design,” agency officials said in the statement. “The rocket is designed to withstand heavy rainfall on the launch pad, and the spacecraft hatches are secured to prevent water ingress.”

As of Wednesday morning, Nicole was about 200 miles east of West Palm Beach. The storm is already producing winds of 70 mph with higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It is expected to strengthen to a hurricane before hitting the east coast of Florida on Wednesday afternoon. It comes less than two months after Hurricane Ian caused widespread devastation in western Cuba, Florida and parts of South Carolina.

Nicole is expected to weaken as it moves across central and northern Florida and southern Georgia on Thursday, according to the hurricane center.

NASA said its teams disabled the space capsule and rocket systems ahead of the storm and are working to secure the launch pad and surrounding areas for possible debris.

If needed, the agency said, a backup launch opportunity is available on Nov. 19.

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