NASA has announced further delays in its Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon by 2025, citing ongoing technical issues, cost overruns, and safety concerns with key components of the missions.
New Launch Dates Push Missions into 2026
The Artemis II crewed flyby of the moon, originally slated for 2024, will now launch no earlier than May 2025 aboard the long-delayed Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Its sister ship Artemis III, aimed to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2025, is now targeting 2026 at the earliest .
NASA says the delays are necessary to test and validate the integrated performance of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft that will carry out these missions . However, the timeline continues to slip even as competing space programs progress. The delays have raised worries that other countries could reach key milestones first:
“These continued delays risk allowing China to establish long-term presence on the moon before US astronauts can return,” members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee wrote in a letter this week to NASA leadership .
Technical Problems Plague SLS Rocket and Capsule
Much of the postponement revolves around continued development of NASA’s Space Launch System – a key piece needed to propel the next-generation Orion crew capsule into space and around the moon.
SLS has faced years of delays and cost overruns exceeding $2 billion. Faulty valves discovered during an ill-fated summer launch attempt have contributed to the latest push back . And just this month, NASA acknowledged concerns over excessive heat generated during Orion’s re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere – requiring months of additional analysis and risk reduction efforts before another launch attempt .
|SLS Rocket Stats
|Height: 322 feet
|Taller than Statue of Liberty
|Thrust: 8.8 million pounds
|15% more thrust than Saturn V
|Payload to Lunar Orbit: 59,500 lbs
|2-4x more than commercial rockets
These technical problems do not appear to dent NASA leadership’s optimism in the Artemis program overall:
“While we have these couple of months delay…we are so solidly on track for delivering this capability,” said Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development .
But independent reviews from within and outside the agency suggest significant hurdles persist.
Safety and Budget Concerns Could Force More Delays
A recent audit found NASA expects total Artemis costs will likely exceed the $93 billion projected through 2025 – not counting other factors like damages from recent hurricane damage to core infrastructure. Cost overruns could reach $1.5 billion in the next 5 years alone if the pace of spending accelerates further .
“The Artemis missions remain significantly challenged due to continued delays, performance challenges…and an aggressive timetable,” an independent federal watchdog group testified to Congress this week .
These budgetary stresses come as some former NASA brass argue the agency should scrap the program altogether and start fresh with an approach more akin to the Apollo missions of the 1960’s.
“We need to goes back to basics,” wrote former NASA administrator Michael Griffin in an op-ed last week. He argued today’s extended mission approach lacks the galvanizing Cold War rationale that spurred Apollo’s success .
But present NASA leadership told Congress this route is neither “wise nor affordable” after billions in investments to date – betting instead on incremental progress of its public-private partnership model .
Fallout in the New Space Race
As NASA wrangles with these internal issues, rival space agencies proceed towards milestones that could influence which nation sets the rules of law for future activity in space.
China is rapidly advancing its own manned moon mission to extract water and other resources from the lunar surface later this decade. Russian has floated intentions to build a lunar base by 2040 as well.
“There’s going to be a lot of temptation for Russia and China to cut deals between themselves outside the established order,” warned space policy expert Dr. Scott Pace in testimony this week .
Since the Artemis Accords in 2020, over a dozen nations have joined team NASA in principles governing mining rights, space debris, and other issues that lack international legal precedent .
With its head start in crewed lunar missions, experts suggest whichever nation lands humans first this decade could steer these norms in their favor:
“Whichever country is first to land humans on the Moon this decade and establish some sort of permanent presence is going to set some precedents – especially if whoever is there first starts extracting resources,” said one policy fellow recently .
What Comes Next?
For now, NASA continues working toward a planned “wet dress rehearsal” test in March to fuel and conduct final pre-launch checkouts of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. Officials maintain Artemis I could blastoff as early as June on its uncrewed deep space shakedown cruise around the moon before astronauts take the helm next year .
But experts warn NASA’s Artemis initiative faces daunting money problems, technical challenges, and safety questions in meeting its ambitious goals against fast-moving alternative programs. Missed deadlines also mean losing the premium of being first to cement influence over nascent space resource guidelines.
Continued mission delays could further erode public confidence and congressional support. That risks pushing an American return – and even longer-term human presence – on the lunar surface further down the road as other global contenders press forward.
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