NASA finally fully fueled up its Artemis moon rocket

It may be the fourth time lucky for NASA's Artemis 1 moon rocket. After three failed tries earlier this year, the rocket finished two days of testing on Monday, which included mock countdowns and fuelling. A recent dress rehearsal came very close to getting NASA's Orion spacecraft—designed to carry people on missions to the moon and Mars—and the Space Flight System rocket ready for launch.

At the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the crew loaded the rocket with 700,000 pounds of cryogenic fuel at around 8:45 a.m. Eastern time on Monday. But things didn't go quite as planned: after the rocket had been completely fuelled, the Artemis 1 team found a hydrogen leak. The leak would have triggered alarms in a real countdown. The mission management team, however, decided to have the computer disregard the alert in Monday's test, sometimes known as a wet dress rehearsal.

Only a little alteration was made to the countdown, terminating at T-minus 29 seconds before liftoff rather than the anticipated T-minus 9 seconds. Despite the fuel spill, NASA officials claim that the wet dress rehearsal gave them valuable information and a chance to resolve problems.

“It was a long day for the team, but it was a very successful day,” Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, director of NASA Artemis launch, told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday. 

She referred to the loading of the liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellant as well as the terminal countdown's last seconds as "amazing milestones".

Multiple hardware problems that sprang up during the rocket's three prior test launches in April necessitated a six-week maintenance period.

It's usual for a new rocket to experience technical difficulties. Wet dress rehearsals are used to reveal these problems and get the spacecraft ready for the challenging circumstances it will encounter during launch.

“It’s a violent, violent atmosphere for those components to be in,” according to Kevin Miller, an engineer at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. “It’s an interesting environment unlike anything else in the world, and we have to make sure it operates flawlessly.”

The last test that NASA had scheduled for Artemis 1 before launch was the practice run on Monday. However, given Monday's leak, it's possible that the space agency would postpone the launch or add a fifth wet dress rehearsal.

According to FOX Weather, Jim Free, NASA's assistant administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, informed reporters that the launch window for Artemis 1 is between August 23 and September 6. It will be an important step to return astronauts to the moon when the rocket eventually lifts off, possibly beginning a new era in lunar exploration.