NASA has delayed the launch of its next-generation megarocket and space capsule to the moon as Florida braces for an approaching storm.
Tropical Storm Nicole, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane Wednesday, is projected to batter Florida's eastern coast, forcing the space agency to reschedule its planned launch on Nov. 14. NASA is now aiming to launch its uncrewed Space Launch System rocket Nov. 16, during a two-hour window that opens at 1:04 a.m. ET.
The change was made to ensure that employees could prepare for the storm, according to the agency.
“Adjusting the target launch date will allow the workforce to tend to the needs of their families and homes, and provide sufficient logistical time to get back into launch status following the storm,” NASA officials said in a statement.
Artemis I, the mission to the moon, has already been delayed several times as engineers worked to fix a series of hazardous leaks that were detected during the fueling process.
The $4.1 billion flight is designed to test both the huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion space capsule before NASA sends astronauts back to the lunar surface.
The rocket is sitting at launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA said the SLS booster is designed to withstand 85 mph winds and will remain at the launch pad during the storm.
“Current forecasts predict the greatest risks at the pad are high winds that are not expected to exceed the SLS design,” agency officials said in the statement. “The rocket is designed to withstand heavy rains at the launch pad and the spacecraft hatches have been secured to prevent water intrusion.”
As of Wednesday morning, Nicole was located roughly 200 miles east of West Palm Beach. The storm is already producing winds of 70 mph with higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center.
It is expected to strengthen into a hurricane before slamming into the east coast of Florida on Wednesday evening. It comes less than two months after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction across western Cuba, Florida and parts of South Carolina.
Nicole is expected to weaken as it moves across central and northern Florida and into southern Georgia on Thursday, according to the hurricane center.
NASA said its teams have powered down the space capsule and rocket systems ahead of the storm and are working to secure the launch pad and its surrounding areas for potential debris.
If needed, the agency said, a backup launch opportunity is available Nov. 19.