NASA’s return to the Moon pushed back another year

NASA moon
The last landing on the Moon was in 1972. Source: Euclid vanderKroew (via Flickr)

By Mia Becker-Hansen | Head of Science and Technology

The first NASA mission to put humans on the Moon since 1972 has been pushed back by one year to 2025. 

The ‘Artemis’ lunar mission was previously aimed for running in 2024, hoping to send the first ever woman and the 13th man to the lunar surface. The delays are due to numerous reasons, including funding and a lawsuit over the landing vehicle.

A US federal judge recently upheld a decision by NASA to award the contract to build a lunar landing vehicle (the Artemis Human Landing System) for this mission to Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his rocket company, Blue Origin, contested the decision, saying the contract was supposed to have been awarded to more than one bidder. As of last week, a federal court has now ruled against Blue Origin. This delayed SpaceX’s development with NASA of the lunar landing module by seven months.

In announcing the delay to the moon landing, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said Congress had not provided enough money to develop a landing system, and even this problem alone made the 2024 date untenable. “The human landing system is a crucial part of our work to get the first woman and the first person of colour to the lunar surface, and we are getting geared up to go,” Nelson told reporters, “NASA is committed to help restore America’s standing in the world.”. It was also made note that China’s rapidly developing and ambitious space program could overtake the US in lunar exploration.

The space agency also is requesting a bigger budget for its Orion capsules, from $6.7bn to $9.3bn, citing delays during the coronavirus pandemic and storm damage to Nasa’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, the main manufacturing site for two of their modules.

The first mission under the Artemis programme is due to fly in February next year, an unmanned flight test around the Moon lasting three weeks. The second Artemis mission involves sending astronauts onboard the Orion spacecraft, which will orbit the Moon and go farther into space than any humans have travelled before. 

The third Artemis mission will then be the lunar landing mission, set to land at the lunar south pole, which is thought to hold vast stores of water-ice in craters that never see sunlight. The ice in these craters have the potential to be used to make rocket fuel on the Moon, which would in turn bring down the cost of lunar exploration, as fuel would therefore not need to be brought from Earth.

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