NASA has announced that its Artemis program will be delayed by over a year, pushing a crewed lunar landing to at least September 2025. The delays come amid ongoing issues with development of new spacesuits and SpaceX’s Starship rocket.
Background on the Artemis Program
The Artemis program is NASA’s ambitious plan to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. Named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, Artemis aims to land the first woman and next man on the moon using innovative new technologies.
Key parts of the Artemis program include:
- Space Launch System (SLS) – A powerful new rocket capable of sending astronauts beyond Earth orbit
- Orion spacecraft – A crew capsule to transport astronauts to cislunar space
- Gateway – A small space station in lunar orbit to support surface missions
- Human landing systems – New spacecraft and rovers built by commercial partners
- Spacesuits – Next generation suits designed for exploring the lunar surface
- International partnerships – NASA is working with space agencies from Europe, Japan, Canada, and elsewhere
The mission sequence for the initial Artemis flights include:
|An uncrewed test flight of SLS and Orion around the moon
|First SLS/Orion test flight with astronauts on board
|Crewed lunar landing on the moon’s south pole
Delays Result from Technical and Budget Issues
On January 9th, 2024, NASA announced that Artemis II and III would be pushed back into 2025 and 2026 respectively. Artemis I has already faced significant delays, not launching until late 2022 over a year behind schedule.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson cited both budgetary concerns and ongoing technical challenges around the program:
“We have an incredibly large challenge ahead that will require the entire nation’s efforts to succeed. We have limited windows of opportunity, and achieving 2025 was an incredibly large challenge to begin with.”
Key factors behind the latest Artemis delays include:
Spacesuit development problems – NASA is struggling to complete design of new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units (xEMUs) capable of supporting lunar surface EVAs. Issues around mobility and sizing could push certification to 2025 or later.
Starship delays – The Starship HLS variant selected to ferry astronauts to the lunar surface has faced development setbacks pushing its readiness date to at least 2026.
Budget shortfalls – Securing full Congressional funding for the entire Artemis program has been an ongoing challenge, contributing to schedule slips.
Impact on Competition with China in Lunar Exploration
The Artemis delays come amidst growing pressure for the US to establish a sustained presence on the moon before China’s ambitious space program accomplishes the same feat.
While NASA still aims to launch the first crewed lunar landing mission since Apollo, China is moving swiftly with its Chang’e program:
- Chang’e 4 made the first soft landing on the lunar far side in 2019
- Chang’e 6 will return lunar samples by 2025, showcasing rendezvous and ascension technology
- Crewed landings could come by 2030, with a moon base soon after
“It is disappointing that NASA is again postponing plans to send humans to the moon under project Artemis,” said Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House space subcommittee. “Continued delays call into question our ability to ever get back to the moon at all.”
Path Forward for Artemis Despite Setbacks
In response to the latest delays, NASA leadership struck an optimistic tone about ultimately achieving Artemis objectives.
“ NASA is committed to help restore America’s standing in the world,” said Bill Nelson. “We are going to build an economy around space with new technologies, new manufacturing and new discoveries that will benefit all Americans.”
The space agency aims to mitigate remaining technical hurdles around the key human landing systems and spacesuits while securing full funding in upcoming budget requests.
While the Artemis III date has slipped to September 2026, NASA still hopes to make significant progress by launching the first SLS/Orion test mission with crew on Artemis II in 2025. This flight around the moon and back would set the stage for a crewed south pole landing mission soon after.
|New Artemis Schedule
|Artemis I: Complete
|Artemis II: September 2025
|Artemis III: September 2026
Through continued Artemis flights later this decade, NASA intends to develop a sustainable human presence on and around the moon as a proving ground for eventual crewed Mars missions in the 2030s.
Though facing budget constraints, technical problems, and external pressure to reach the moon rapidly, NASA remains committed to executing ambitious exploration goals with the Artemis program.
While the latest schedule delays are disappointing after years of setbacks, the space agency hopes to mitigate remaining issues around new spacesuits, rockets, and landers required for returning astronauts to the lunar surface after a 50+ year hiatus.
If funding and technologies come together as planned, Artemis has the potential to inaugurate a bold new chapter of space exploration and discovery over the coming years and decades.
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