NASA targets late August test flight of giant moon rocket

On the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, NASA announced Wednesday that it is shooting for a late August launch of its giant new moon rocket.

NASA will attempt the month-long lunar test flight with three dummies, but no astronauts, starting August 29. There are also two launch dates in early September, before NASA has to pull out for two weeks.

NASA’s Jim Free noted that the test flight begins “our Artemis program to return to the moon.” The space agency’s new lunar program is named Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.

The 30-story Space Launch System rocket and attached Orion capsule are currently in the hangar at Kennedy Space Center, following repairs resulting from last month’s countdown test. Fuel leaks and other technical problems occurred during NASA’s repeated launch rehearsals on the pad.

NASA officials assured reporters on Wednesday that the issues had been resolved and testing was nearing completion. But they warned that launch dates could slip, depending on Florida’s unstable weather and any issues that may arise before the rocket is supposed to return to pad on August 18.

“We’re going to be careful,” said Free, exploration systems development manager.

At 322 feet (98 meters), the Orion rocket and capsule are taller than the Statue of Liberty.

If Orion’s trip to the moon and back goes well, astronauts could board in 2023 for a lunar loop and land in 2025.

Astronauts last explored the moon in 1972. The first of 12 moonwalkers, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, walked on the dusty gray surface on July 20, 1969, as Michael Collins orbited the moon.

Aldrin, 92, the only survivor of the three, noted the anniversary in a tweet: “Neil, Michael and I were proud to represent America as we took these giant steps for humanity. It was a moment that united the world and America’s finest hour.

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