Challenges still persist in getting astronauts to the moon; NASA postpones the launch date again

Challenges still persist in getting astronauts to the moon;  NASA postpones the launch date again

America is late in the race to put a man on the moon again: NASA has once again delayed its launch dates, this time due to major safety concerns.

NASA postponed the missions in an announcement last week, citing unresolved issues including the battery, heat shield, and circuit components responsible for air ventilation and temperature control.

The first manned mission to orbit the Moon, Artemis 2, has been postponed to September 2025. The first manned mission to land on the Moon since 1972, Artemis 3, has been postponed to September 2026. Artemis 2 was originally scheduled to launch in November of this year. Artemis III is originally scheduled for December 2025.

According to NASA, the Artemis IV mission to land astronauts on the Gateway lunar space station remains on track for 2028. Artemis I, an uncrewed test flight, was scheduled for November 2018 but did not launch until November 2022.

The ultimate goal of the Artemis mission series is to prepare for human missions to Mars.

NASA officials provided an explanation for the delay in testimony before the House Science and Space Subcommittee on Wednesday.

The subcommittee reiterated the nation’s goal of landing a human crew within the decade, and stressed the importance of beating other nations to land the first crew on the Moon: the first nation there would set precedence in the conduct and possibility of future lunar activities. The lawmakers specifically called out China.

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William Russell of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) expressed concern that NASA expected to launch Artemis III within a year after Artemis II.

“One year is not a long time to do this learning, transforming and preparing for a launch date of September 2026,” Russell said.

Kathryn Koerner, NASA’s associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, defended the timeline. Corner said America is still a leader in the race to the moon.

“We believe we will reach the surface of the moon before China, and we intend for that to happen,” Koerner said.

Koerner said processing of the Artemis III vehicle would be sufficient before the Artemis II launch date to make it feasible. Koerner noted that NASA’s eleven industrial partners have signed on to the revised launch dates.

“With Artemis, we are building a capability: not just a launch capability, but a capability in lunar orbit, and a capability on the lunar surface over time,” Koerner said.

Artemis needs to be fully rebooted and will require guidance from Congress to the executive branch on how to proceed, said Michael Griffin, a former undersecretary of defense for research and engineering at the Department of Defense and former NASA administrator. Griffin said that Artemis II was on a realistic schedule, but Artemis III was not.

“In my opinion, the Artemis program is too complex, unrealistically priced, threatens crew safety, poses too great a risk to mission completion, and is unlikely to be completed in time to be successful,” Griffin said.

In addition to its testimony on Wednesday, the GAO also released a report on NASA delays and key remaining challenges.

The GAO stated that this foreshadows NASA’s announcement of the postponement in November; They reported that NASA expected an ambitious schedule, delayed key events, and had a significant amount of technical work remaining.

The GAO also noted a lack of transparency regarding mission costs: NASA has not yet provided a formal cost for Artemis III, despite requesting $6.8 billion in its budget request for fiscal year 2024. Requests for upcoming Artemis missions have totaled at least $38 billion over the next five years. The GAO noted that they first reported a lack of financial transparency in 2019, when they discovered that NASA did not plan to develop a formal cost estimate for Artemis III.

Key partners on the Artemis missions are SpaceX, the company founded and led by X CEO Elon Musk, which is developing a human landing system; Axiom Space is developing more advanced spacesuits.

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