Spectators in Florida and online who were trying to watch NASA’s new Artemis I moon rocket launch last week were sorely disappointed when it was delayed a second time. Originally slated to launch Monday August 29th, the mission was scrubbed again on Saturday September 3rd because of a fuel leak. Now it looks like the next attempt might not be until mid-October at the earliest, as engineers are trying to inspect and fix the rocket in the workshop rather than the launch pad.

The Space Launch System (SLS) isa powerful rocket, and is in fact the most powerful developed by the United States space agency. The large thrust comes from burning almost three million liters of nearly frozen liquid hydrogen and oxygen in four big engines on the underside of the vehicle. And it was the hydrogen itself that caused the trouble when it came time to launch.

Unfortunately, when it was time to fill the hydrogen tank early Saturday morning an alarm went off, indicating that there was a leak in the tank. The problem was later traced to the connection where the hydrogen was pumped into the tank. Quick fixes did not work to try to seal the leak, so the rocket will need to go back into the cargo bay to be fixed.

Nasa’s Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin said the rocket’s future role in taking humans to the moon means care must be taken now. “This is an incredibly hard business. This is an initial test flight of this vehicle. As was said: we’re going to fly when we’re ready. And as part of this initial test flight, we’re learning the vehicle; we’re learning how to operate the vehicle,” he told reporters.

His boss, Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson, agreed: “I look at this as a part of our space program, of which safety is at the top of the list.”

Although this Artemis 1 mission is set to launch without a crew, the spaceflight is a precursor of things to come in order to get people back to the moon. Scientists and citizens alike are excited to get it back in the air. “It’s gonna be ‘shuttle on steroids’,” said Doug Hurley, who was the pilot on the very last shuttle mission in 2011.

The former astronaut now works for Northrop Grumman who make the big white solid boosters on the sides of the SLS. “What I always thought was the coolest thing about shuttle launches was you saw it lift off and it was well clear of the tower before you heard anything, and then it was even a little longer before you felt it,” he explained.

Because the batteries that are part of the termination system in case of a troubled launch must be recertified, the vehicle needs to go back to the workshop. “In order to test our batteries, change out the batteries, we have to roll back,” said Jim Free, Nasa’s associate administrator for exploration systems development.

Of course NASA is disappointed in the time and cost involved, but two scrubbed attempts are still better than a failed mission. It begs the question though, could the money be better spent on other things?

According to Advisor to Berkeley Capital Adnan Zai, “Spending on space exploration at a time when you have massive fires, floods and famine that is claiming headlines with loss of life, makes zero sense.”

Certainly there is exhilaration and excitement in getting men to the moon, but perhaps first we should worry about the people on earth and how we can keep them safe and healthy through the difficulties wrought by climate change and beyond.