(CNN) — NASA returned the massive Artemis I lunar mega rocket to its hangar, the so-called Vehicle Assembly Building, at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to protect it from Hurricane Ian.
The hurricane made landfall in western Cuba early this Tuesday. The category 3 storm is heading towards Florida.
The move, which concluded at 9:15 am ET on Tuesday, delays by at least a few weeks the third launch attempt for the Artemis I mission, which is scheduled to send an uncrewed capsule around the Moon.
The setback will likely push NASA’s next attempt into November, though late October could still be an option for the long-awaited launch.
“We know the earliest it could be done is the end of October, but the most likely is mid-November,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told CNN.
“The administrators decided to back down on the basis that the latest weather forecasts related to Hurricane Ian showed no improvement in forecast conditions for the Kennedy area. The decision gives employees time to care for their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system,” NASA said in its statement. artemis-blog.
The rocket, called the Space Launch System, or SLS, made the slow 4-mile trip back to the maintenance building beginning at 11:21 pm ET on Monday.
This Tuesday morning, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB, for its acronym in English), the imposing structure that houses the rocket, was evacuated, according to NASA.
“At approximately 11:45 p.m. today, a fire was reported in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Employees were evacuated and no injuries have been reported. The VAB is fire safe, and the Artemis I vehicle was not in danger. We will provide news as we have it,” according to a Tweet from the Kennedy Space Center.
The agency will hold a press conference today at 2 pm ET to discuss the rollback decision. Janet Petro, director of the Kennedy Space Center, will provide an overview of all the hurricane preparations that are taking place at the complex.
“After the storm has passed, crews will conduct inspections to determine impacts to the core and establish a forward plan for the next launch attempt, including replacing the core stage flight termination system batteries and retest the system to ensure it can terminate the flight if necessary for public safety in the event of an emergency during launch,” according to an update in the Artemis blog.
The overall goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to return humans to the Moon for the first time in half a century. And the Artemis I mission, expected to be the first of many, will lay the groundwork, testing the rocket and spacecraft and all their subsystems to ensure they are safe enough for astronauts to fly.
But the launch of this first mission has turned out to be a complicated task. The agency had already decided over the weekend postpone the third launch attempt, which was scheduled for Tuesday, September 27, due to weather problems. At issue on Monday morning was whether the mission team would have to move the rocket back into cover as Hurricane Ian headed toward Florida.
Once the decision was made, NASA focused on getting the roughly $4 billion SLS rocket back to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, a massive structure big enough to house the vehicle upright. The rocket made the trip by slowly crawling on a mobile platform called Crawler-Transporter 2.
Technical problems thwarted the first two attempts to get the SLS rocket off the ground for the Artemis I mission. One of the main problems was a series of leaks that arose when teams tried to fill the rocket with supercold liquid hydrogen fuel. The mission team worked to fix those issues and ran a test last week. Although the tests did not go exactly according to plan, NASA deemed them a success, saying “all of our major objectives were met.”