NASA delays Artemis launch as Tropical Storm Nicole approaches Florida

NASA has delayed the launch of its next-generation mega-rocket and space capsule to the Moon as Florida braces for an impending storm.

Tropical Storm Nicole, which is expected to develop into a hurricane on Wednesday, is expected to hit Florida’s east coast, forcing the space agency to postpone its scheduled Nov. 14 launch. NASA is now aiming to launch its uncrewed Space Launch System rocket on November 14. 16, during a two-hour window that opens at 1:04 a.m. ET.

The change was made to ensure employees could prepare for the storm, according to the agency.

“Adjusting the target launch date will allow the workforce to meet the needs of their families and homes, and provide ample logistical time to return to launch status after the storm,” said officials. NASA officials in a statement.

Artemis I, the mission to the moon, has already been repeatedly delayed as engineers worked to repair a series of dangerous leaks that were detected during the refueling process.

The $4.1 billion flight is designed to test both the massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion space capsule before NASA returns astronauts to the lunar surface.

The rocket sits on Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA said the SLS booster is designed to withstand 85mph winds and will remain on the launch pad through the storm.

“Current forecasts predict that the greatest risks to the pad are high winds that are not expected to exceed the SLS design,” agency officials said in the release. “The rocket is designed to withstand heavy rain on the launch pad and the spacecraft’s hatches have been secured to prevent water intrusion.”

On Wednesday morning, Nicole was about 200 miles east of West Palm Beach. The storm is already producing 70 mph winds with stronger gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It is expected to develop into a hurricane before hitting Florida’s east coast Wednesday night. It comes less than two months after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction in western Cuba, Florida and parts of South Carolina.

Nicole is expected to weaken as it moves through central and northern Florida and southern Georgia on Thursday, according to the hurricane center.

NASA said its teams shut down the space capsule and rocket systems ahead of the storm and were working to secure the launch pad and surrounding area for potential debris.

If needed, the agency said, a backup launch opportunity is available Nov. 19.

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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