CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s massive Artemis 1 moon rocket eyes its red target in stunning photos released by the space agency today (Nov. 8).
The Beaver Blood Moon Eclipsethe last total lunar eclipse until 2025 excited sky watchers around the world this morning — including folks here on Florida’s Space Coast, home to the Cape Canaveral Space Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) .
One of them was NASA photographer Joel Kowsky, who took a series of dramatic shots showing the blood moon rising above the massive agency. Artemis 1 rocket, which has been at KSC’s Launch Pad 39B since Friday (November 4).
Related: Amazing Photos of the Last Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse of 2022 (Gallery)
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Riding out the storm
Artemis 1, NASA’s first mission Artemis programwill use the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a 26-day mission to lunar orbit and back. NASA plans to launch Artemis 1 on Nov. 14, though Mother Nature has to cooperate with that plan — and the weather over the next few days doesn’t look good.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued hurricane and storm surge watches for Florida’s east coast on Monday (November 7). A weather pattern called Invest 98L formed in the Atlantic Ocean last week and developed into Subtropical Storm Nicole on Monday morning, according to the NHC, and is expected to reach the Space Coast as early as Wednesday (Nov. 8).
This storm comes on the heels of Hurricane Ian, which devastated parts of Florida in late September. The approach of Hurricane Ian prompted NASA to cancel the previous Artemis 1 launch attempt and drop the rocket from Pad 39B and return it to KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for safekeeping. In Nicole’s face, however, NASA chooses to leave the rocket on the pillow.
“Based on current forecast data, managers have determined the Space launch system the rocket and Orion will remain at Launch Pad 39B,” NASA wrote in a statement Monday, adding that officials “will assess the status of the Monday, Nov. 14 launch attempt for the Artemis 1 mission as we move forward and receive updated predictions for the weather.”
The agency’s decision to go live on November 14 isn’t entirely unexpected. Current models predict Nicole will reach Florida’s east coast sometime Wednesday, bringing heavy rain and winds that could reach tropical storm speeds by Friday (November 11).
However, the storm is forecast to have dissipated by Monday’s launch attempt, and provided Nicole does not damage the Artemis 1 stack or KSC ground systems, NASA will continue to prepare for launch.
Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 Moon Missions: Live Updates
The agency is also diligently preparing for a possible hurricane if Nicole strengthens into one. NASA is working closely with the US 45th Weather Squadron to present alert level protocols for KSC and Patrick Space Force Base. Currently, KSC is under what is known as HURCON III. HURCON III takes effect 48 hours before sustained winds of 50 knots (57.5 mph or 92.6 km/h) are expected to reach the space center.
The Artemis 1 rocket is rated to withstand wind gusts of up to 74.1 knots (85 mph or 136.8 km/h). So far, Nicole is not expected to achieve such strong winds, which explains why NASA decided to leave SLS and Orion on the pad instead of returning the pair to the VAB. However, Nicole still has the option of pushing the launch attempt to one of the immediate backup days, November 16th or November 19th.
Nicole has already upset NASA’s plans to some extent in the days leading up to Artemis 1’s launch. Certain actions are taken when a facility is in HURCON III status, for example, including “securing facilities, property and equipment, and informing and development of the ROT [ride-out team],” according NASA’s hurricane preparedness page (opens in new tab). This inevitably requires prioritizing some functions in the KSC over others.
A rare opportunity was cancelled
Other photographers would have joined NASA’s Kowsky in documenting the dramatic confrontation between Artemis 1 and the Blood Moon on Tuesday morning if Nicole hadn’t crashed the party.
NASA invited a handful of press to KSC to photograph the rare event. The eclipse occurred near the time of Moonset, so Artemis 1’s view to the west was the only vantage point from which to line up such a shot. And the only location outside of restricted areas in the KSC for such a prospect would be from the Atlantic Ocean, whose seas grow larger as Nicole approaches.
I was one of the invitees and I can’t stress enough how incredible this opportunity was. An SLS rocket will likely touch down on Pad 39B about a dozen times over the next 20 years (and that’s a generous estimate). NASA recently ordered additional Orion spacecraft to facilitate Artemis missions six through eight, which are expected to launch in the 2030s. Artemis 2 is expected to launch in 2024, but delays already suggest the date may slip.
This means the moon sets behind an Artemis rocket standing on the launch pad during a total lunar eclipse it’s not something that’s likely to happen again anytime soon, or very often, if ever again. It was incredibly generous of NASA to invite photographers to such an occasion.
Unfortunately, KSC’s HURCON status prevented accredited media from attending as planned, causing NASA officials to cancel the photo shoot altogether. And it’s not the only schedule change as a result of Nicole’s impending arrival.
For example, NASA informed media photographers via email on Monday that the remote camera settings for the Artemis 1 launch will also be reprogrammed, “once again weather conditions at the center are known.” And while ensuring the beautiful photos of the Nov. 14 launch are low on the priority of NASA’s launch readiness checklist, it likely isn’t the only planned preparation that will be swept away by the storm. We’ll just have to see what Nicole has in store for the US East Coast.
Editor’s note: If you’ve taken a great lunar eclipse photo and want to share it with Space.com readers, send your photos, comments, and your name and location to [email protected]
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