NASA completes major test on rocket that could take humans back to the moon

Space

In this image from video made available by NASA, the core stage of the Space Launch System, NASA’s planned moon rocket, is tested at the Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., on Thursday, Mar. 18, 2021. With this critical test finally finished, NASA now will send the rocket segment to Kennedy Space Center for launch preparations. (NASA via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Aerospace firms on Thursday credited NASA with a successful test of engines on a Boeing-built rocket for Artemis missions that aim to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2024, more than half a century since the last lunar walk.

NASA simulated a launch by firing the engines of the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket while it was anchored to a tower at its Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The four RS-25 engines roared to life for the full eight minutes of the test and filled the surrounding area and sky with clouds of white smoke. After the engines cut off, NASA employees could be heard applauding on the space agency’s live-streaming video, and many aerospace firms publicly congratulated NASA on a successful test.

“Success!” tweeted Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human exploration and operations office.

On the first test firing, in January, the engines fired for just a minute, automatically cut short by strict test limits that were relaxed for the redo. Valve issues also had to be resolved prior to Thursday’s countdown.

The Space Launch System is now expected to go to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with Lockheed Martin Corp’s Orion spacecraft to prepare it for launch.

The four engines tested Thursday actually flew into orbit on NASA’s space shuttles and were upgraded for the more powerful SLS system. The orange core stage is reminiscent of the shuttle’s external fuel tank, which held the liquid hydrogen and oxygen that fed the main engines.

Boeing built the core stage, which stands 212 feet.

NASA aims to send an uncrewed spacecraft to orbit the moon in November and return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2024, but the SLS program is three years behind schedule and nearly $3 billion over budget.

President Joe Biden has tapped former Democratic senator and astronaut Bill Nelson to run the U.S. space agency, according to two people familiar with the decision.

It was a much-sought-after victory for Boeing after multiple setbacks.

Boeing lost a race for its Starliner crew capsule to be the first to carry astronauts from U.S. soil to the International Space Station in nearly a decade to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is also racing to send its own crewed mission to space for the first time.

The Trump administration had pressed for a moon landing by astronauts by 2024, a deadline increasingly difficult if not impossible to achieve at this point. The current White House has yet to issue a revised timeline.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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