NASA on Tuesday postponed its plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface and announced that the agency is aiming for a crewed landing in 2025.
NASA’s new schedule represents a delay from the previous 2024 target set by former President Donald Trump’s administration in 2017 – an ambitious push from the agency’s 2028 target before Trump took office.
“The Trump administration’s goal of landing people in 2024 was not based on technical feasibility,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters on a conference call.
Known as the Artemis Program, NASA has a series of missions planned to launch its Space Launch Systems rocket and Orion capsule to the moon. The Artemis I mission, which will not carry astronauts on a flight around the moon, should start earlier this year, but will now be postponed to spring 2022 at the earliest.
Nelson said the manned Artemis II mission is slated for May 2024, while the Artemis III mission – which is slated to bring astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo era – is slated for 2025 at the earliest.
NASA also attributed the delays to the protest and lawsuit filed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin earlier this year. Nelson said the litigation resulted in the loss of nearly seven months of work with Elon Musk’s SpaceX on the latter company’s lunar landing contract with the agency.
SpaceX won a $ 2.9 billion contract in April to build NASA’s Human Landing System program by developing a variation of its Starship rocket to take the astronauts to the moon.
A federal court ruling last week ended the work stoppage, with Blue Origin losing its lawsuit against NASA.
Nelson added the agency’s urgency to return to the moon and mentioned China’s recent advances in human spaceflight. He stressed that NASA “will proceed as aggressively as possible in order to defeat our competitors in a safe and technically feasible way with boots on the moon”.
“The Chinese space program, which includes the Chinese military, gives us indications that they will be very aggressive,” said Nelson.