WASHINGTON — NASA's new moon rocket was battered by high winds while sitting on the launch pad Thursday as Hurricane Nicole struck Florida, less than a week before its scheduled launch.
According to Jim Free, a NASA associate administrator, wind sensors at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad detected peak wind gusts up to 82 mph (71 knots) at the 60-foot level. Free said in a statement Thursday that those levels are within the rocket's capability.
Free said the NASA team is conducting initial checks of the 322-foot rocket, spacecraft, and ground system equipment using cameras at the launch pad. He added that so far they've found "very minor damage such as loose caulk and tears in weather coverings." He said that the team will be conducting additional onsite inspections soon.
The rocket was moved back to the launch pad last week, and NASA was aiming for a launch attempt early Monday.
But on Tuesday, the space agency said it was delaying the launch until at least next Wednesday because of then-Tropical Storm Nicole.
The agency previously said it made the decision over the weekend that the safest option was to leave the rocket on the launch pad for the duration of the storm. According to NASA, the Artemis I rocket is designed to withstand 85 mph (74.4 knot) winds at the 60-foot level.
But there were some reports that sensors near the launch pad showed wind gusts up to 100 mph as Nicole moved through.
Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at about 3 a.m. Thursday near Vero Beach, before dropping down to tropical storm strength again.
"We took the decision to keep Orion and SLS at the launch pad very seriously, reviewing the data in front of us and making the best decision possible with high uncertainty in predicting the weather four days out," Free said. "With the unexpected change to the forecast, returning to the Vehicle Assembly Building was deemed to be too risky in high winds, and the team decided the launch pad was the safest place for the rocket to weather the storm."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.