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NASA Investigating Issue With Orion Hatch Ahead of Crewed Moon Mission

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Four astronauts are scheduled to ride on board the Orion spacecraft in September 2025 for NASA’s first crewed mission to the Moon in more than 50 years. But before the Artemis crew can strap into Orion, the space agency still needs to resolve an issue with the spacecraft’s side hatch that could prevent the astronauts from exiting in case of an emergency.

During a recent meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), members of the panel revealed that NASA has been studying an issue related to the Orion spacecraft’s side hatch to ensure that it can be opened in a variety of different scenarios, SpaceNews reported. This is in addition to another lingering issue with Orion’s heat shield that was revealed after the spacecraft touched down following the Artemis 1 mission in December 2022.

NASA has been investigating a number of issues with the design of Orion’s side hatch over the past six to nine months, according to ASAP member William Bray. “It’s really specifically an area where it could affect or impact crew ability to open the hatch in a contingency operation either on the launch pad at launch or landing on return to Earth,” Bray is quoted in SpaceNews as saying.

ASAP members also referred to another issue with the Orion spacecraft, namely to do with its heat shield. After the Artemis 1 mission splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, follow-up inspections of the Orion capsule revealed an unexpected performance from its heat shield. During Orion’s reentry through Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft traveled at speeds reaching 24,600 miles per hour (39,590 kilometers per hour) and its heat shield endured temperatures above 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Although NASA engineers had anticipated that some charring would occur, more of the shield’s ablative material came off than they had expected.

NASA will not proceed with the launch of the Artemis 2 mission until it understands the problem with the heat shield and make changes, space agency officials revealed during a meeting in November 2023. At the time, NASA anticipates finding a tentative resolution to the heat shield issue by late spring of this year.

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During a press conference in August, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, commander of the Artemis 2 mission, said: “This crew, we’re not going to launch until we know we’re ready, until our team knows that the vehicle is ready and we will keep the pressure on.”

Earlier this year, NASA announced that it was delaying its Artemis timeline in order to address safety and technical issues related to the spacecraft. The Artemis 2 mission was originally scheduled for November 2024 (now moved to September 2025) and the follow-up Artemis 3 mission, which was originally scheduled for late 2025, was delayed to September 2026.

The Artemis team had also discovered issues with the valves in the Orion capsule’s life support system that’s designed to keep the crew alive inside the spacecraft. The valves passed the test for Artemis 2, but failed during testing for the Artemis 3 mission due to a design flaw. NASA engineers also noted deficiencies in the performance of Orion’s batteries, which are designed to be used in case of emergency should the spacecraft need to separate from the rocket.

With the new schedule, NASA does have more time to deal with these issues, and hopefully the Artemis crew can launch to the Moon without the dread of lingering safety concerns.

Want to know more about humanity’s next giant leap in space? Check out our full coverage of NASA’s Artemis Moon program, the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, the recently concluded Artemis 1 mission around the Moon, the four-person Artemis 2 crew, NASA and Axiom’s Artemis Moon suit, and the upcoming lunar Gateway space station. And for more spaceflight in your life, follow us on Twitter and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.

Source: Gizmodo

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