The House space subcommittee held a hearing on January 17th to discuss the status of NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon. Artemis has faced growing delays and cost overruns, pushing the lunar landing to 2026 at the earliest. Members of Congress raised concerns over the impacts of the delays and ensuring America beats China in the new space race.
Artemis Faces Over 18 Month Delay
NASA recently announced that the Artemis II crewed flight around the moon has been pushed back from 2024 to April 2025. This is expected to delay the Artemis III lunar landing until 2026 at the soonest. The primary causes stem from technical challenges with the Space Launch System rocket and new human landing system.
Former NASA administrator Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden testified that while delays themselves aren’t unusual for large aerospace programs, “the costs associated with it are getting exorbitant.” Development costs for the initial three Artemis missions have ballooned from $28 billion to $93 billion. Bolden said changes in direction by each new administration have contributed to Artemis getting “jerked around.”
Updated Artemis Mission Dates
|Completed Dec 2022
|2026 or later
Artemis I finally launched last month after years of delays. But new technical issues have arisen that once again put the follow-on missions behind schedule.
Heat Shield, Spacesuit Delays Endanger Crew Safety
A key issue is problems with the heat shield for Orion, the capsule that will carry astronauts. Cracks were found in the heat shield during recent testing. NASA is working on fixes but this could delay Artemis II’s flight by up to 18 months. Committee chair Rep. Jake Auchincloss noted, “it’s disconcerting that basic technology development remains unfinished for systems critical to keeping our astronauts safe.”
There have also been delays with development of the new spacesuits NASA astronauts will wear on the lunar surface. NASA is reportedly considering simplifying the suit designs to speed things up. But committee members voiced worries this could pose unnecessary risks to the crew.
Bolden believes NASA leadership has been too focused on meeting arbitrary deadlines rather than prioritizing safety. “An obsession with schedule has historically not served NASA well when it comes to human space exploration,” he testified.
Competition with China Driving Schedule Pressure
In recent years, China has ramped up investment in its own moon program, aiming to land Chinese astronauts by the early 2030s. The U.S. currently remains years ahead in technology and experience. However, committee members warned that continued delays could erase America’s edge.
“If we continue to kick the can down the road…I’m afraid we’ll wind up in a space race that looks very different than what President Kennedy envisioned,” Auchincloss said.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson agreed it’s crucial for the U.S. to beat China in returning to moon. He vowed that NASA will learn from past issues to avoid further delays beyond 2026. But legislators emphasized that Congress needs to provide more consistent funding and strategic direction going forward.
“We cannot ask NASA to get back to the moon on a diet and delay their timeline because the funding is not consistent,” Rep. Don Beyer stated. “If we want an Apollo-style success, we need Apollo-style commitment and Apollo-style resources.”
Beyond geopolitical standing, establishing a sustained human presence on the moon would open up vast economic opportunities.
“We’re going to live on the moon, and we’re going to industrialize the moon…the moon is chock full of resources,” said angel investor Martine Rothblatt. Rothblatt noted how surveys have detected large quantities of hydrogen, oxygen, metals and minerals underground that could be mined. These lunar resources could help make future space travel easier and cheaper.
“The nation that learns first how to ‘live off the land’ by using space resources…is going to have a lasting edge,” Rothblatt said.
Outlook Going Forward
While Artemis faces growing pains getting off the ground, most experts believe NASA will work through the technical hurdles. Congress and the public maintain strong enthusiasm for returning to the moon. Financial support for Artemis should only grow with time.
Once NASA gets back on track operationally, Artemis provides the backbone needed to stage missions to Mars in the 2030s. Establishing a lunar base is the critical next step enabling humanity to eventually become a multi-planet civilization. America must lead the charge toward that future.
“We cannot let technical delays today distract from the generations-long undertaking ahead of us…our eyes must stay fixed upward and outward,” Auchincloss concluded.
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