The Orion Crew capsule of NASA’s next-generation lunar rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, stands on Launch Pad 39B in preparation for the unmanned Artemis 1 mission in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. August 28, 2022. (REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

Cape Canaveral, Fla.: NASA’s Crescent rocket remained in orbit to begin a critical test flight on Monday despite a series of lightning strikes on its launch pad.

At 322 feet (98 meters), the Space Launch Systems rocket is the most powerful NASA has ever built. Half a century after NASA’s Apollo program landed 12 astronauts on the moon, an empty crew capsule is ready to be sent into lunar orbit.

If this six-week test flight goes well, astronauts could return to the moon within a few years. However, NASA officials warn that the risks are high and the flight could be shortened.

Instead of astronauts, three test dummies will be anchored in the Orion capsule to measure vibration, acceleration and radiation. This is him one of the greatest dangers to humans in deep space. In the capsule alone he has more than 1,000 sensors.

NASA’s Orion Crew Module for the Artemis 3 mission stands at the Operations and Checkout Building during a media tour in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, August 28, 2022. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Officials said on Sunday that neither the rocket nor the capsule was damaged during Saturday’s thunderstorm. Ground equipment was also unaffected. He was confirmed to have hit the 600-foot (183-meter) lightning tower surrounding the rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center five times. The strike was not strong enough to justify a major retest.

“Obviously, the system worked as designed,” said Jeff Spaulding, NASA Senior Test Director.

More storms were expected. Weather forecasters indicated an 80% chance of acceptable weather Monday morning, but conditions were expected to worsen during the two-hour launch window.

On the technical side, Spaulding said the team has done its best to eliminate a lingering fuel leak over the past few months. His two Countdown tests earlier this year required repairs to leaking valves and other faulty equipment. Engineers don’t know if all the modifications are in place until hours before the planned liftoff. If not successful on Monday, the next launch will be on Friday.

After years of delays and setbacks, the launch team was thrilled to finally be nearing the first flight of the Artemis lunar exploration program, named after the twin sisters of Apollo in Greek mythology.

“We are now less than 24 hours from launch, which is pretty amazing for where we have been on this journey.

A subsequent Artemis flight will take place as early as 2024 and will see four astronauts fly around the Moon. Landing could continue in 2025. NASA targets the unexplored south pole of the moon. This Antarctic is believed to be permanently overshadowed by ice that could be used by future crews.

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