Canadian astronaut Saint-Jacques says Artemis 1 delay right call; next try weeks away

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MONTREAL — NASA's decision to scrub the launch of its new moon rocket is disappointing but necessary due to another leak found ahead of the planned test flight, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques said Saturday.

The Artemis 1 mission, which aims to send an uncrewed NASA Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket to the moon, was delayed after the rocket sprang a fuel leak, forcing controllers to call off the second attempt this week.

Monday's first effort to send a crew capsule with test dummies aboard into lunar orbit was also aborted due to escaping hydrogen elsewhere on the 98-metre NASA-built rocket.

After the latest setback, mission managers decided to haul the rocket off the pad and move into the hangar for further repairs and system updates. Several weeks of work will be needed, according to officials.

The test flight is slated to be the first return to the moon after almost 50 years.

Saint-Jacques, who was set to watch the launch from the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in suburban Montreal, said the excited space buff in him was disappointed but the sober engineer knows it was the right call.

"It's the right thing to do, there's no need to rush to launch," Saint-Jacques said.

It wasn't immediately clear when NASA may try again. Saint-Jacques said a window remains open until about Tuesday, but after that the moon won't be in the right spot in the sky for a few weeks.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said Saturday the launch will be off until October if the rocket has to return to the hangar for repairs.

The $4.1 billion test flight is the first step in NASA's Artemis program of renewed lunar exploration, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology.

Saint-Jacques said the test flight is an important one, noting a Canadian astronaut is expected to be part of Artemis 2, the first crewed flight since Apollo 17 in 1972, which is slated to fly around the moon and return in 2024.

The flight would make Canada the second country ever to send someone around the moon.

"That'll be huge for our nation," Saint-Jacques said. "Everyone remembers where they were when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, well I think everyone will remember where they were when a Canadian launches for the moon."

Canada is also contributing Canadaarm 3 to the Lunar Gateway, a planned orbiting lunar space station set to be a key part of the Artemis program. Canadian researchers and firms are involved in the program as well.

Saint-Jacques said the Artemis program will reintroduce humans to the lunar environment, but also provides a training ground for missions to Mars. The first step, however, is to get the Artemis 1 mission off the launch pad so scientists can learn everything they need to from the test run.

Federal Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne released a statement on Saturday expressing his disappointment.

“Like many Canadians, I’m anxiously waiting for a successful launch of Artemis I. But as you know, this is a very complex mission and it’s important to see this done safely and to do this right," Champagne said.

"We've waited almost 50 years for humans to go back to the moon, so whether it's waiting a few days or a few weeks, Canada will be front and centre in humanity’s next steps in space exploration."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2022.

- with files from The Associated Press

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press