CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA on Tuesday delayed putting astronauts back on the moon until 2025 at the earliest, missing the deadline set by the Trump administration.
The space agency had been aiming for 2024 for the first moon landing by astronauts in a half-century. Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator, announced the delay by stating that Congress didn’t provide enough money for a landing system to support its Artemis moon program, and that more money was needed for its Orion capsule. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos rocket company, has filed a lawsuit against NASA, which has halted work on the Starship lunar landing platform under Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Officials said technology for new spacesuits also needs to ramp up, before astronauts can return to the moon.
NASA still targets February next year for the first test flight on its lunar rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS with an Orion capsule. There will not be anyone aboard. Instead, astronauts will strap in for the second Artemis flight, flying beyond the moon but not landing in 2024, a year later than planned. That would bump the moon landing to at least 2025, according to Nelson.
” The human landing system is an integral part of our efforts to get the first woman or the first person of colour to the moon’s surface. We are getting ready to go,” Nelson said to reporters. “NASA is committed to help restore America’s standing in the world.”
Nelson made note of China’s ambitious and aggressive space program, and warned it could overtake the U.S. in lunar exploration.
NASA’s last moon landing by astronauts occurred during Apollo 17 in 1972. Altogether, 12 men explored the lunar surface.
During a National Space Council meeting in 2019, Vice President Mike Pence called for landing astronauts on the moon within five years “by any means necessary.” NASA had been shooting for a lunar landing in 2028, and pushing it up by four years was considered at the time exceedingly ambitious, if not improbable.
Congress will need to increase funding, beginning with the 2023 budget, in order for NASA to have private companies competing for the planned 10 or more moon landings by astronauts, Nelson said. The space agency is also asking for a larger budget for Orion capsules. It wants it to go from $6.7 billion up to $9.3billion, due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic in New Orleans and storm damage to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, which is the main manufacturing site of Orion and SLS. Development costs for the rocket through the first Artemis flight next year stand at $11 billion.
Vice President Kamala Harris will convene her first National Space Council meeting, as its chair, on Dec. 1. Nelson informed her about the most recent schedule and costs while they were visiting Maryland’s Goddard Space Flight Center.