NASA delays landing on the Moon until 2025, blames Jeff Bezos and Congress

Illustration of a future manned Artemis mission using SpaceX's lunar lander

Illustration of a future manned Artemis mission using SpaceX’s lunar lander
Image: SpaceX

Surprising absolutely no one, NASA has announced that it will not send astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024. Blaming everyone for the delay, the space agency says it intends to send a crew to the Moon, including a woman and a person of color, in 2025.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson broke the news at a press conference yesterday, but he did it in a very strange way.

Last Friday’s federal court decision, in which Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company lost your lawsuit against NASA over the HLS lunar lander contract, “it is progress for the Artemis program,” Nelson said, but later cautioned that NASA is not yet ready to report mission timelines. Nelson reported after the mission deadlines anyway.

The first date on the calendar is already known. Artemis I, the mission on which NASA is supposed to launch its SLS rocket for the first time, is scheduled for February 12, 2022. NASA recently completed the stacking of the rocket, including the assembly of the Orion spacecraft. The 101-meter-tall rocket still needs to undergo some testing, but NASA appears ready to light this candle early in the new year.

Nelson mentioned an approximate date for the Artemis II mission, which “will take astronauts further than ever.” This manned mission to the Moon and back, without landing, is scheduled for May 2023, the previous date being April 2022.

As for the highly anticipated Artemis III mission to get people to the Moon, it will happen sometime in 2025, not 2024 as planned, Nelson said. The revised roadmap will not affect subsequent Artemis programs, including the construction of the Lunar Gateway (a space station in lunar orbit) and various activities planned for the lunar surface in the later half of the 2020s, he added.

That Artemis III does not happen in 2024 is not a surprise, we had been waiting for a delay for quite some time. However, it is interesting to hear the reasons.

“We have lost almost seven months in litigation and that has led to the first human moon landing [de Artemis] It probably won’t happen before 2025, “Nelson said, referring to the Blue Origin lawsuit. The law did not allow NASA to communicate with SpaceX until the litigation was over. That said, SpaceX continued to develop the lunar lander without contacting it. or receive payments from NASA. It is not clear what was lost during the seven months of litigation; Nelson and other NASA officials who participated in the press conference did not reveal any details about it. More interesting and revealing was Kathy Lueders, leader of NASA’s manned spaceflight program, which said that even though NASA is “on hold” due to the demand from Blue Origin, “the people at SpaceX have continued to make progress.”

But Nelson also complained that the CPrevious congresses had not allocated enough money to the program. He also referred to the former US president, saying that the Trump administration’s plan for Artemis “was not based on technical feasibility.” In fact, it was Trump’s idea to launch a crew in 2024 instead of 2028, as originally planned. The covid-19 pandemic, supply chain problems, and damage from Hurricane Ida were also blamed for the delay (NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility suffered serious damage in August).

Nelson’s comment on “technical feasibility” is the closest thing to hearing NASA admit to technical defeat. The space agency does not like to do that and prefers to complain about the lack of funding. The Blue Origin lawsuit may have delayed Artemis, but NASA can hardly blame Bezos for other problems, including unfinished spacesuits which, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, made “a lunar landing in late 2024 … not feasible.”

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy updated Orion’s fiscal data, adding that the original budget for the spacecraft was $ 6.7 billion, and that the estimate now revised is $ 9300 millions. That’s a big leap, but he said that “many of the development challenges of SLS and Orion have been left behind”.

At the press conference, Nelson also took the opportunity to employ some scare tactics, in a clear attempt to win favor with Congress. “We are facing a very aggressive and good Chinese space program,” he said. China is becoming “increasingly capable” of landing at his Taikonauts on the Moon, an event that could happen “much earlier than expected,” he said. NASA, Nelson stated, “is going to be as aggressive as we can, in a safe and technically feasible way, to beat our competitors by stepping on Moon”. Nelson warned that the new deadlines depend on the existence of sufficient funding, and that Congress needs to increase NASA’s budget starting in 2023.

The one-year delay is probably a good thing, as it will likely result in a safer mission. It also gives more time to NASA to develop and test next-generation spacesuits, which will need to keep astronauts protected from lunar elements. We have been waiting for another crewed trip to the Moon since 1972. We can wait another year.

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NASA delays landing on the Moon until 2025, blames Jeff Bezos and Congress