After scrapping a second attempt to get NASA's 30-story Artemis lunar launcher off the ground on Saturday, officials at the US space agency have warned that it may not be possible to try again before next month.
The current launch window for NASA's Artemis 1 mission to the Moon ends on Tuesday and is "definitely off the table," according to Jim Free, associate project administrator.
The next possible launch window is 19 September to 4 October, and failing that, 17 to 31 October, NASA said.
The ability to take advantage of those windows "will really depend on the options that the team comes back with likely on Monday or early Tuesday morning," said Free.
Millions around the globe tuned in to live coverage and crowds gathered on beaches in Florida on Saturday hoping to witness the historic blastoff of the Space Launch System (SLS).
But a leak near the base of the rocket was found as ultra-cold liquid hydrogen was being pumped in, forcing a halt.
The Artemis 1 space mission hopes to test the SLS as well as the unmanned Orion capsule that sits on top of the 30-story rocket, in preparation for future Moon-bound journeys with humans aboard.
Faulty fuel seal suspected
The first launch attempt on Monday had also been halted after engineers detected a fuel leak and a sensor showed that one of the rocket's four main engines was too hot.
"This is a whole new vehicle, a whole new technology, a whole new purpose of going back to the moon and preparation to go to Mars," said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. "Yes, it's hard."
Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin described the hydrogen leak as "large," and said one of their "leading suspects" was a seal on a fueling tube.
Engineering teams believe they will have to replace the seal, either directly on the launch pad or after taking the rocket back to its assembly building a few miles away.
It was "too early" to entirely rule out a launch before the end of September, said Sarafin, who promised a status update next week.
A politically correct project
In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of the god Apollo, after whom the first Moon missions were named.
Unlike the Apollo missions, which sent only white men to the Moon between 1969 and 1972, Artemis missions will see the first person of color and the first woman set foot on the lunar surface.
A successful Artemis 1 mission would come as a huge relief to the US space agency, after years of delays and cost overruns.
The cost of the Artemis program is likely to reach $93 billion by 2025.
The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts to the Moon without landing on its surface.
The crew of Artemis 3 is to land on the Moon in 2025 at the earliest, with later missions envisaging a lunar space station and a sustainable presence on the lunar surface.
A crewed trip to Mars could be attempted by the end of the 2030s.