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NASA mission managers have decided to roll the Artemis I moon rocket back to its home in the Vehicle Assembly Building after the latest Hurricane Ian forecasts, further delaying the mission to October or beyond.
Weather permitting, the 322-foot Space Launch System rocket at pad 39B is expected to start the roughly four-mile, 11-hour hike back to the VAB at 11 p.m. EDT Monday. NASA had already moved the 55-year-old Crawler-Transporter 2 to the pad over the weekend in advance of the decision.
"Managers met Monday morning and made the decision based on the latest weather predictions associated with Hurricane Ian, after additional data gathered overnight did not show improving expected conditions for the Kennedy Space Center area," NASA said in a Monday statement.
As of Monday morning, Ian was forecasted to begin impacting the Space Coast sometime between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.
Had Hurricane Ian not been a factor, the next attempt to launch the rocket and its uncrewed Orion capsule would have been Tuesday, Sept. 27. A backup opportunity was available Sunday, Oct. 2, but that will likely not be possible now that the rollback decision has been made.
The next opportunity to launch the four-to-six-week mission opens Oct. 17 and closes the 31st with several blackout dates (24, 25, 26, and 28) in between. Beyond that, another window opens Nov. 12 and closes the 27th – again, with blackouts on the 20th, 21st, and 26th
Artemis I is part of NASA's attempts to put two astronauts back on the lunar surface and, someday, build a more permanent presence there before moving on to Mars. The first mission will take an uncrewed Orion capsule to the moon and back, while Artemis II will do the same but with astronauts. Artemis III, flying sometime before 2030, is expected to put two astronauts on the surface.
Two previous attempts to launch in late August and early September were called off due to technical issues. First, one of the 322-foot rocket's four RS-25 main engines appeared to have out-of-range temperatures due to a faulty sensor; then, a significant hydrogen leak didn't allow NASA to fuel the rocket enough for the second attempt.
Since then, NASA has fixed the hydrogen leak issue and conducted a successful fueling test to confirm.
KSC has seen its fair share of storm-related damages over the years. The historic 2004 season that saw four hurricanes impact Florida – Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne –left a visible mark at the spaceport when hundreds of aluminum panels were torn off the historic VAB. Some holes even formed in the building after teams were unable to complete repairs due to the back-to-back hurricanes.
Overall that year, the VAB lost some 820 side panels that covered more than 52,000 square feet of its surface. Inspectors also found holes in the 56-year-old building.
Changes to the launch timeline also mean impacts to tourism. As of last week, the 150-room Country Inn & Suites by Radisson in Cape Canaveral was nearly sold out ahead of Tuesday’s attempt, General Manager Eddie Diaz said.
"It's brought in a lot of leisure and business travel. We have a lot of people staying who are working on the project. It's really exciting," Diaz said. "A lot of these workers, they're hedging their bets. They'll make two sets of reservations, and then end up canceling one or the other."
Diaz said his Astronaut Boulevard hotel’s extended-stay rooms are popular with Cape and Space Force employees and contractors, including NASA, SpaceX, and Blue Origin.
“I've been in this area for a really long time. So if it were me and I had a $10 billion project, I would probably roll it back to the VAB,” Diaz said.
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
Reporter Rick Neale contributed to this story.
Launch periods for Artemis I (subject to change):
October: 17 to 31
Oct. 17 to 23: Available
Oct. 24 to 26: Unavailable
Oct. 27: Available
Oct. 28: Unavailable
Oct. 29 to 31: Available
November: 12 to 27
Nov. 12: Available
Nov. 13: Unavailable
Nov. 14 to 19: Available
Nov. 20 to 21: Unavailable
Nov. 22 to 25: Available
Nov. 26: Unavailable
Nov. 27: Available
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Hurricane Ian: NASA will roll Artemis I's SLS rocket back to VAB