By delaying the Artemis mission launch - NASA is playing it safe

ITV News correspondent Robert Moore explains why NASA postponed the landmark launch.

NASA has learnt through tragedy to take no unnecessary risks.  Space flight is hard enough, so the launch pad protocols are incredibly tight.

Engineers spotted a problem with engine number three on the SLS rocket and quickly decided to scrub the launch while they investigate.

“Safety is always first,” NASA tweeted. 

In the world of space exploration and with the timescales for the Artemis missions stretching decades into the future, this is a disappointment but not a significant setback.

The NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson, made clear that this is a test vehicle on an experimental flight and there is no pressure to launch until the ground team is completely happy with the systems checks.  

The Artemis 1 flight is without a crew, designed to test the SLS rocket and the Orion space capsule.  

When it does launch, there will instead be mannequins aboard - in this case, called 'moonequins' - with multiple sensors attached.  

A free-floating cuddly Snoopy toy will also be aboard Orion as a zero-gravity monitor.

Next in the line of missions is Artemis 2, to be launched in 2024, that will carry astronauts, but not land on the moon.

The Artemis 1 mission will set off on a course for the moon on a journey expected to take up to 42 days. Credit: PA Graphics

Artemis 3, scheduled for the end of 2025, will be first to touch down on the lunar surface, landing on the moon's south pole. Notably, it will include the first woman on a lunar mission.

In other words, Artemis is going to be NASA’s most inclusive and diverse space programme, an acknowledgement that the agency's old macho culture of having test pilots with the “right stuff” ended up elevating exclusively white men into the astronaut corps.

There are critics of the programme who cite its $100 billion price tag.  Some say that NASA should be doing robotic deep space exploration instead.

But the whole point of Artemis is to put humans back into the exploration business, to excite a nation, and to inspire a new generation of engineers and astronauts.

The launch is delayed, but in the eyes of NASA’s leadership, the mission stays on track.

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