NASA Rocket Test Shut Down Early


A planned eight-minute burn of NASA’s Artemis program rocket boosters on Saturday was cut short after little more than a minute but NASA officials are still upbeat about the test. “This is not a failure,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is a test, and we tested today in a way that is meaningful where we’re going to learn … we’re going to make adjustments, and we’re going to fly to the moon,” he said. The test was to be the last of eight tests of the Space Launch System (SLS) that will push crewed spacecraft into deep space for the Artemis program. Saturday’s test at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi involved a full load of 700,000 pounds of fuel and firing all four engines at the same time and a NASA official said it was a valve problem that caused the early shutdown.

“What we learned was is that we didn’t have the pressurization valve modeled appropriately,” John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager, told a news conference. It’s still not clear if a ninth test will be required before the rocket is shipped to Cape Canaveral to prepare it for the first launch. “We got lots of data that we’re going to go through and be able to sort through and get to a point where we can make determinations as to whether or not, you know, launching in 2021 is a possibility or not,” Bridenstine said.

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  1. ‘Not a failure’? It is absolutely a big failure. A major component failure (which this was, as called by a controller during the live-streamed test) during the final testing on a booster before it gets sent to the Cape to fly is likely to set the SLS program back yet again. Not long ago they were considering skipping these tests and going straight to flight! So much for reliable heritage components?

  2. Absolutely a failure. If they knew that quickly what went wrong, it wasn’t something subtle or minor. The lack of honesty is disturbing. I hope the people who will have to ride those things off the launch pad raise holy hell.

    Too many cover-your-ass bureaucrats and not enough engineers and scientists, but that’s been the NASA way for a long time.

  3. Having spent much of my engineering career dealing with the problems and consequences of various failure modes, it bugs me to see and hear engineers use the term “modeled” in this context. With some engineers it has carried with it an unwillingness to accept that what they have done has not lived up to the expectations they and others have had for their efforts or project. Sometimes you had to hand them the now-separated pieces of a recently unitized device before their mental gears started turning in the right direction again.

  4. Let’s see… We tried an eight minute burn, but something broke after a minute because we modeled it wrong. But, we think we can ship the booster to the Cape and try launching astronauts with it anyway. How many astronauts do they have to blow up before they figure out that hoping everything will be okay just doesn’t seem to work out well? Someone needs to stamp Gene Crantz’s slogan on all their foreheads: “Failure is not an option.”

    Give me at least two more test fires at 100% power for the full eight minutes and I will be impressed. Otherwise, turn it over to SpaceX and Blue Origin and get out of the way.