CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA’s mega moon rocket will soon be heading back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to undergo repairs after a series of technical issues sidelined an important wet dress rehearsal meant to determine if the agency is on track for sending astronauts back to the moon.
The space agency announced the move Saturday and said while back at the VAB, engineers will replace a faulty valve and examine a small leak in a device that connects the launch platform to the rocket.
The Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft have been at launchpad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center since March 19, but crews have been unable to successfully conduct a full dress rehearsal because of technical issues.
NASA’s Artemis Mission Manager Mike Sarafin said the longer the rocket stays at the pad, the more stress is placed on the vehicle.
"It’s 32 stories tall every time the wind blows against it, it creates a bending moment and over time, that adds up," Sarafin said. "We got to weigh that against environmental exposure out in the field, but then also the rollback to the Vehicle Assembly Building to reattach a wet dress rehearsal actually put stress on the vehicle as well."
On Monday, NASA officials said they plan to begin rolling the SLS on the mobile launcher back to the VAB on April 26.
Sarafin said NASA will still "absolutely do a wet dress rehearsal" it's just not clear what modifications will be made to that test when it happens until the vehicle can get back into the hangar for some repairs.
It is unclear how the delays could impact future Artemis missions, but the maiden voyage planned for June seems increasingly unlikely.
Officials on Tuesday estimated it could be "weeks" before the SLS and Orion could be ready to make the 4-mile journey to launchpad 39B again.
Former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale, who spent 32 years with the agency, posted on Twitter that he still has trust in his former colleagues, but they need to become more transparent in light of the recent failures.
NASA tentatively planned to launch the uncrewed Artemis I mission into space in June, with the intent of sending astronauts to the moon by 2025 on a future mission.