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Mission: The moon

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (AP) – On the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, NASA announced on Wednesday it’s shooting for a late August launch of its giant, new moon rocket.

NASA will attempt the more than month-long lunar test flight with three mannequins, but no astronauts, as early as August 29.

There are also two launch dates in early September, before NASA would have to stand down for two weeks.

NASA’s Jim Free noted the test flight begins “our Artemis programme to go back to the moon”. The space agency’s new lunar programme is named Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.

The 30-storey Space Launch System rocket and attached Orion capsule are currently in the hangar at Kennedy Space Centre, following repairs stemming from last month’s countdown test. Fuel leaks and other technical trouble cropped up during NASA’s repeated launch rehearsals at the pad.

NASA officials assured reporters on Wednesday that the problems have been resolved and that testing is almost complete.

In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin Jr poses for a photograph besides the US flag on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. PHOTOS: AP
Invited guests and NASA employees take photos as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is rolled out of High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the first time, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida

But they cautioned the launch dates could slip, depending on the volatile Florida weather and issues that might arise before the rocket is supposed to return to the pad on August 18.

“We’re going to be careful,” said Free, head of exploration systems development.

At 98 metres, the rocket and Orion capsule are taller than the Statue of Liberty.

If Orion’s trip to the moon and back goes well, astronauts could climb aboard in 2023 for a lunar loop-around and actually land in 2025.

Astronauts last explored the moon in 1972.

The first of the 12 moonwalkers, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, stepped onto the dusty grey surface on July 20, 1969, while Michael Collins orbited the moon.

The 92-year-old Aldrin, the sole survivor of the three, noted the anniversary in a tweet, “Neil, Michael & I were proud to represent America as we took those giant leaps for mankind. It was a moment which united the world and America’s finest hour.”