NASA to attempt relaunch of Artemis mission days after botched first attempt

The Artemis 1 mission
The Artemis missions will eventually see humans step on the Moon again. Photo credit: Getty Images

NASA has announced it will try to launch its unmanned Artemis mission to the Moon from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Saturday (local time) after being forced to postpone earlier in the week.

That would mean liftoff occurring early Sunday morning, New Zealand time, with 0617 the current estimated time for the mission to blast off.

The initial attempt at the start of the week was postponed due to engine issues with the Space Launch System rocket that carries the Orion spacecraft off the ground.

One of the four RS-25 engines on the bottom of the rocket's core stage failed to hit the proper temperature range to allow liftoff to proceed

According to NASA, managers suspect the issue seen with engine three was unlikely to be the result of a problem with the engine itself and could instead be related to temperature sensors not functioning correctly.

Artemis Mission Manager Mike Sarafin said teams met to review the data from the failed launch, and had agreed to start the engine chilldown process earlier for the second attempt.

That would hopefully avoid the issues and allow the launch to proceed as planned.

The Artemis I mission is the first step towards astronauts returning to the lunar surface for the first time since  the Apollo 17 mission in late 1972.

The uncrewed Orion craft will travel around the Moon and remain in space for between 20 and 40 days before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Although there are no humans onboard, Orion will be carrying a crew of three mannequins - one male and two female - each fitted with sensors to measure stresses astronauts would face, including radiation levels.

The next Artemis mission, currently set for 2024, will have astronauts on board, with the eventual plan for the missions to put the first woman and person of colour on the Moon.

NASA also plans to use the missions to set up a permanent base on the lunar surface which will then help serve as a stepping stone to Mars.

The original plan of setting foot on the Moon by 2025, however, is in doubt due to legal disputes and the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused issues for both the lunar lander module and the new spacesuits that need to be created.