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NASA is trying to launch its big new moon rocket again


NASA is just hours away from finally sending its big new moon rocket on its first test flight. The launch window opens at 1:04 a.m. Eastern. The 32-story-tall behemoth is being prepped by workers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has more.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: NASA first started trying to launch this rocket in August. Since then, there's been technical glitches, like a faulty engine sensor and a hydrogen fuel leak, and not one but two hurricanes.

MIKE SARAFIN: The word perseverance comes to mind. The team has had to persevere through numerous trials.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Mike Sarafin is NASA's mission manager for this test flight, which will send a crew capsule with no astronauts on board out to orbit the moon and then return safely back to Earth.

SARAFIN: We've got to get this right.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Because the next flight in a couple of years is supposed to take up people. NASA officials have vowed to put the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. Earlier this week, engineers spent hours analyzing and discussing a thin strip of caulking about 10 feet long. The winds of Hurricane Nicole tore it off a spot at the top of the rocket, too high up to repair. Sarafin says his team decided it was OK to fly without it, but they never were able to determine for sure the cause of the hydrogen fuel leak that forced them to call off their second launch attempt back in September.

SARAFIN: We looked at all the potential causes. We mitigated them to the extent that we could.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: This rocket costs more than $4 billion. And NASA has spent years building it. Before mission managers will commit to launch, so many things have to cooperate, everything from the weather to hundreds of technical details.

SARAFIN: We're going to go when it's right, but we're going to give it our best shot.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: All of this work comes as NASA is nearing the 50th anniversary of its final mission to take astronauts to the moon, which was Apollo 17 in December of 1972. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.

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