NASA's new moon rocket remained on track to blast off on a crucial test flight Monday, despite a series of lightning strikes at the launch pad. The 322-foot Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful ever built by NASA, is poised to send an empty crew capsule into lunar orbit. Officials said Sunday that neither the rocket nor capsule suffered any damage during Saturday's thunderstorm; ground equipment also was unaffected, the AP reports. Five lightning strikes were confirmed, hitting the 600-foot towers surrounding the rocket at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The strikes weren't strong enough to warrant major retesting. "Clearly, the system worked as designed," said Jeff Spaulding, NASA's senior test director.
More storms were expected. Although forecasters gave an 80% chance of acceptable weather Monday morning, conditions were expected to deteriorate during the two-hour launch window. In lieu of astronauts, three test dummies are strapped into the Orion capsule to measure vibration, acceleration and radiation, one of the biggest hazards to humans in deep space. The capsule alone has more than 1,000 sensors. After so many years of delays and setbacks, the launch team was thrilled to finally be so close to the inaugural flight of the Artemis moon-exploration program, named after Apollo's twin sister in Greek mythology. "We're within 24 hours of launch right now, which is pretty amazing for where we've been on this journey," Spaulding told reporters.
(Read more NASA