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Fuel leak thwarts NASA dress rehearsal for moon rocket


NASA’s latest attempt to fuel its massive moon rocket for a countdown test has been thwarted by a dangerous hydrogen leak

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s latest attempt to fuel its massive moon rocket for a countdown test was thwarted Thursday by a dangerous hydrogen leak, the latest in a series of vexing equipment problems.

The launch team had just begun loading fuel into the rocket’s core stage when the leak occurred. It was NASA’s third shot in a dress rehearsal, a mandatory step before a test flight to the moon.

This time, the launch team successfully loaded super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen into the core stage of the 30-story Space Launch System rocket, but is far from reaching the full amount. Liquid hydrogen is extremely dangerous, with officials noting that the systems had been checked for leaks before the test.

Technicians deliberately left the smaller upper floor empty, after discovering a bad valve last week. The helium valve inside the upper stage cannot be replaced until the rocket is back in its hangar at Kennedy Space Center.

Two previous countdown attempts were marred by recalcitrant fans and a large manual valve that workers mistakenly left closed at the pad last week.

Officials said via Twitter that they were assessing their next steps.

NASA was targeting June for the launch of the 322-foot (98-meter) SLS rocket. The empty Orion capsule on top will be sent on a four- to six-week mission around the moon and back.

Astronauts will strap in for the second test flight around the moon, scheduled for 2024. This would be followed as early as 2025 with the first lunar landing of astronauts since 1972. NASA plans to announce the crews for these two missions this summer.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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