NASA canceled the launch of its Artemis I mission on Monday, but space agency scientists were pouring data from the attempt in hopes of sending the spacecraft in the next few days, the first step in a series of launches that could see astronauts headed for the moon for the first time in half a century.
The main problem on Monday came after engineers failed to bring one of the rocket’s four engines to the correct temperature needed to start them for takeoff. NASA said the Artemis team tried to fix the problem quickly before the scheduled departure time, but was unable to do so before a two-hour launch window closed.
The space agency said engineers were evaluating data from the attempt and that the mission management team would be meeting on Tuesday to discuss how to move forward. The next launch could take place on backup days on Friday, just before 1pm local time, or Monday, weather permitting, or potentially be postponed by over a month.
The decision was a disappointment to thousands of rocket observers who drove to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, including Vice President Kamala Harris. But NASA said it would not launch the rocket until it was safe, despite years of delays that beset the $ 40 billion project.
Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager, told reporters that Friday was “definitely in play” for another launch, but said engineers would sift through the data from Monday’s attempt to make sure everything was in order.
“We will play all nine innings here,” Sarafin said during a press conference on Monday night. “We are not ready to give up yet.”
NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket is located in Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39-B just hours before its scheduled launch on August 29, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch of the lunar rocket was postponed due to a problem with one of the rocket’s engines. (Photo: Photo by Paul Hennessy / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
NASA’s next-generation moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with its Orion crew capsule perched on top, sits on launch pad 39B in preparation for the Artemis 1 mission, in Cape Canaveral, Florida , USA August 25, 2022. (Photo: Steve Nesius via Reuters)
“First of all we will give the team time to rest, then come back fresh tomorrow and re-evaluate what we have learned today and then develop a number of options,” he added. “It’s too early to tell what the options are.”
Bill Nelson, the NASA administrator, said the rocket was “brand new”, adding that it would not “fly until ready”.
“I think it’s just illustrative that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system and all of these things have to work,” Nelson said at the press conference on Monday.
The Artemis mission will test NASA’s Space Launch System, a powerful rocket that will propel the Orion spacecraft over the moon. The mission will be unmanned (with three humanoid dummies), but the Orion ship will eventually be able to host astronauts and begin a new era of space exploration. Humans have not set foot on the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and NASA has promised future efforts will see the first woman and first black person set foot on the lunar surface.
When he finally leaves, Artemis I will orbit the Earth before being pushed towards the moon. The spacecraft will fly within 60 miles of the lunar surface as NASA monitors its systems, then will continue in a deep retrograde orbit for just under a week.
The entire mission will last four to six weeks before the Orion spacecraft re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, traveling at around 25,000 mph and producing temperatures approaching 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“After about four to six weeks and a total distance traveled in excess of 1.3 million miles, the mission will conclude with a test of Orion’s ability to safely return to Earth,” NASA said of the mission.
The Artemis I, if it goes ahead, will end an invigorating summer for the country’s space agency. The announced James Webb Space Telescope has been broadcasting magical images from deep space since July, surprising cosmologists and astronomers and ushering in a new era of stargazing.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.