CAPE CANAVERAL, FL. – An approaching storm threatens to delay NASA’s next attempt to launch the New Moon rocket, which has been grounded for weeks due to a fuel leak.

A tropical depression in the southern Caribbean is moving toward Florida and could become a major hurricane.

Managers said Friday that the rocket was ready to launch Tuesday on its first test flight without astronauts, after overcoming additional hydrogen leaks during refueling tests earlier this week.

NASA said it will continue to monitor the forecast and decide by Saturday whether to not only delay the launch but to pull the rocket off the pad and back into the hangar. Officials said it was unclear when the next launch attempt would be – in October or even November – when the rocket would have to seek shelter indoors.

It takes three days of preparation to return the rocket to Kennedy Space Center’s giant assembly building, four miles away.

“I don’t think we’re getting any closer,” said NASA’s Tom Whitmeyer, deputy administrator for intelligence systems. “We’re just taking it one step at a time.”

This will be the third launch attempt of the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA. Fuel leaks and other technical problems canceled the first two attempts.

The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket can withstand 85 mph (137 kph) gusts on the pad, but only 46 mph (74 kph) when in motion.


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