NASA’s First Practice Countdown of Space Launch System Ends with Glass (and Tank) Half Filled

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen at sunrise atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B, Monday, April 4, 2022, as the Artemis I launch team conducts the wet dress rehearsal test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

by David Bullock and Douglas Messier

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA ended its first attempt to conduct a wet dress rehearsal for the maiden flight test of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft to the moon on Tuesday after four days of wrestling with a series of technical challenges and weather delays.

NASA officials said the glass was half filled because they worked through a number of objectives and learned valuable lessons with SLS and Orion on Pad 39B for the first time. That was true in another sense as well: engineers got one of the massive core stage’s tanks about 50 percent filled with liquid oxygen before having to stop on Monday. They were unable to load liquid hydrogen into another SLS tank due to a technical problem.

“This was the first test at the pad with cryogenics…one of our primary objectives is now complete… [and] three of the five secondary objectives are now complete,” said Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson during a media teleconference on Tuesday.

The wet dress rehearsal is one of the final steps before SLS launches the uncrewed Orion crew capsule on a weeks-long flight test to the moon. The launch of the Artemis I mission is set to occur no earlier than June, pending the completion of the practice countdown.

NASA is standing down on its efforts until after the Falcon 9 launch of the Axiom Mission 1 launch from the adjacent Pad 39A on Friday. A Falcon 9 will a Crew Dragon vehicle carrying former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and three paying passengers on a 10-day private mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

“None of these issues are major issues that we need to overcome,” said Artemis Mission Manager Mike Sarafin. “The team has come together, not just because [of the mission], but through this testing program….We are a learning organization, and take pride in [learning].”

The Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972. The Artemis I mission will be followed by the first crewed flight test of the Orion spacecraft in 2024. NASA hopes to land two astronauts at the lunar south pole aboard a SpaceX-built Human Landing System no earlier than 2025.