NASA’s mega-rocket got struck by lightning!

It was quite a shock to the system
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher on March 17, 2022. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Lightning struck the launchpad of NASA’s mega-rocket on April 2. But don’t worry! There was no damage.

The rocket – also known as the Space Launch System (SLS) – is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built! It’s a 30 storey vessel that will launch the Orion spacecraft into space.

The SLS and the Orion spacecraft will play very important roles in the Artemis program, a series of missions that will bring humans back to the Moon!

Four lightning strikes hit the area around the launch pad where the rocket was doing a test countdown. NASA calls this a 'wet dress rehearsal.' These rehearsals simulate a real countdown without igniting the engines and give scientists a chance to work out any glitches before the real deal.

Even though there was no damage, the wet rehearsal was delayed several hours while the storm passed just to be safe.

What kept the rocket safe?

According to NASA, the first three lightning strikes weren’t very strong. But the fourth one was the strongest they’ve seen since installing a new lightning protection system. This system helps protect the SLS from storms like these!

The launchpad’s lightning protection system isolates the rocket from dangerous currents (like lightning).

NASA says lightning delays are actually pretty common, especially in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the launchpad is located.

So when will the rocket launch for real?

This is an illustration of Artemis I: Orion's uncrewed flight around the Moon (CSA, NASA)

The first mission could occur this summer! This will be called Artemis I. The plan is to send the Orion capsule around the Moon and back to Earth without astronauts on board.

The next mission–Artemis II—is scheduled for 2024. This mission will have the same flight route as Artemis I, except with humans on board.

Artemis III is currently scheduled for 2025. And this time, people will actually land on the Moon! This will be the first lunar landing by astronauts since 1972 … now that’s a big deal!

Where did the name Artemis come from?

An artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft approaching the Lunar Gateway (NASA)

In 1969—that's 53 years ago—NASA’s Apollo program landed astronauts on the Moon for the first time. That program was named after Apollo, a god in Greek mythology.

Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister and the mythological Greek goddess of the Moon. This is pretty fitting since the Artemis missions will bring the first woman to the Moon’s surface!

If that’s not exciting enough, the Artemis program will land the first person of colour on the Moon, too!

It’s a good thing that lightning didn’t hurt the SLS, because these missions sure sound like a blast.

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