NASA Secures Artemis I Moon Rocket Indoors as Hurricane Ian Nears

With a monster storm bearing down on Florida, NASA has slammed the launch window shut.

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Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
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The orange and white Space Launch System stands on the launchpad next to a green tower. Lightning towers are visible to the left and right of the launchpad

NASA's Artemis I rocket stood ready on Aug. 26 in Florida before its first launch attempt.

NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA has temporarily called off the launch of Artemis I and officially rolled its mammoth Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. The decision comes as Hurricane Ian threatens to travel north across Cuba and into Florida, bringing extreme winds and rain to the pad's vicinity.

The space agency decided to stand down its launch teams and focus on preparing for a rollback on Saturday morning, deferring a final call for a day. On Sunday, NASA announced it would continue monitoring the storm, giving it every last opportunity for the rocket to remain on the pad and to shoot for an Oct. 2 launch date. But on Monday, NASA announced that the tangerine-hued rocket would be rolled back into the VAB. 

The trek back to VAB started on Monday at 11:21 p.m. ET. After the slow, four-mile journey, the space-bound vessel was secured inside the building at 9:15 a.m. ET Tuesday. 

That timing, NASA said, was based on weather predictions and the decision to allow "time for employees to address the needs of their families and protect the integrated rocket and spacecraft system."

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told CNN on Tuesday morning that it will be at least a month before another launch is attempted.

"We know that the earliest it could go is late October, but more than likely we'll go in the window in the middle of November,"  Nelson said.  

Hurricane Ian is the fifth of the 2022 season, and the risk to the spacecraft was too great to leave it exposed. NASA saw a storm barrel through the space center prior to the first launch attempt, with stunning photographs captured of the launchpad's lightning towers diverting dangerous bolts away from the rocket.

The rollback comes after two aborted launch attempts. In late August, during the first attempt, NASA discovered a problem with engine 3. The second attempt saw a hydrogen leak force an abort. After further tests on Sept. 21, NASA appeared ready to go, but the Atlantic hurricane season has forced another delay. NASA will now evaluate the next best opportunity to launch Artemis I to the moon while the rocket waits in the Vehicle Assembly Building. 

Inspection will begin after the storm has passed, the agency said, and other actions will be taken too, such as "replacing the core stage flight termination system batteries and retesting the system to ensure it can terminate the flight if necessary for public safety in the event of an emergency during launch."