NASA’s 2024 Astronaut Moon Landing Is Almost Certainly Not Going to Happen

Artist’s conception of a crewed mission to the lunar surface.

Artist’s conception of a crewed mission to the lunar floor.
Image: NASA

Ongoing delays in creating NASA’s next-generation spacesuit, together with vital delays in different main applications, imply a lunar touchdown in 2024 is “not feasible,” in accordance to a report from the company’s Office of Inspector General.

The OIG report got here out on August 10, and it reinforces one thing we’ve suspected for some time: The plan to land an American man and lady on the Moon in late 2024 is wholly unrealistic.

Indeed, NASA nonetheless has to fly a rocket wanted for the mission; it doesn’t but possess a lunar lander able to bringing astronauts to the floor and again; and, as the brand new audit reveals, its next-generation spacesuit will probably not be flight-ready in time for testing and use within the Artemis III mission. That the spacesuit, often called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units (xEMU), received’t be prepared till 2025 is discouraging, to say the least. I wrote an article about this spacesuit in October final 12 months, and whereas xEMU appears tremendous cool, the brand new audit exposes it for what it truly is: vaporware.

Astronauts on the International Space Station are presently utilizing a go well with designed 45 years in the past for the Space Shuttle Program. NASA has refurbished and modified this go well with to make ISS spacewalks attainable, however the house company has spent the previous 14 years creating the applied sciences for its next-gen spacesuit.

In addition to keeping astronauts alive on the lunar surface, xEMU will need to integrate with the Human Landing System (HLS) and the upcoming lunar Gateway (a planned space base placed in orbit around the Moon). As the OIG explained in its new report, the “development of new spacesuits is a critical component of achieving NASA’s goals of returning humans to the Moon, continuing safe operations on the International Space Station, and exploring Mars and other deep space locations.”

An OIG audit from 2017 tracked the progress of the xEMU program, finding that NASA spent $200 million during the previous nine years to develop the suit, yet the agency “remained years away” from having a finished product, as the new report points out. Since then, NASA has poured an additional $220 million into the project, which now totals $420 million in costs.

The OIG auditors took a deep dive into the project, looking at costs, schedules, and performance of the next-generation spacesuit. NASA is supposed to produce a pair of mission-ready xEMUs by November 2024, but the OIG said the agency faces “significant challenges” in achieving this goal.

The project is at least 20 months behind schedule, the result of inadequate funding, disruptions posed by the covid-19 pandemic, and technical challenges, according to the report. This has “left no schedule margin” for the delivery of these two suits. What’s more, NASA still needs to finalize the design (yep, you read that correctly), go through verification, and produce two qualification suits (a close match to the real deal) and an ISS demo suit, in addition to building two flight-ready suits for Artemis III. At the earliest, NASA is expected to cross-out all of these outstanding to-do items by April 2025, as the report points out. The OIG anticipates that, by this time, NASA will have spent $1 billion to develop and build the xEMUs, in reference to the $652.2 million that NASA still plans to invest in the project from now to 2025.

Needless to say, this late delivery is already impacting the mission; the Artemis astronauts don’t have the required suits for testing, and they won’t have any for the foreseeable future. Sure, they’ll have mockups, but these Design Verification Test suits, as they’re called, are best guesses of what the final suit will look like and how it’ll work.

“Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible,” according to the report.

But as the OIG also points out, the unfinished spacesuit is hardly the only barrier to a 2024 landing, in reference to the still-to-be launched Space Launch System and the Human Landing System, presently being developed by SpaceX. The latest protest filed by Blue Origin, through which the corporate argued that NASA acted unfairly in selecting SpaceX for the challenge, contributed to additional delays, the report says (Boeing lost the protest, by the best way).

The authors of the OIG report supplied a number of suggestions, together with changes to the schedule to “reduce development risks,” not transferring ahead till all “technical requirements for the next-generation suits are solidified,” and “developing an acquisition strategy for the next-generation spacesuits that meets the needs of both the ISS and Artemis programs.”

Collaboration with industrial companions shouldn’t be out of the query, and the OIG mentioned as a lot within the report. In a latest tweet, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk mentioned his firm “could do it if need be,” however additional particulars weren’t given. Indeed, it’s not instantly clear if NASA is fascinated about SpaceX’s companies for the spacesuit challenge or if that is one thing SpaceX can truly deal with proper now. The firm is busy at work with the Starship platform, which is anticipated to function the lunar lander.

As it stands, Artemis III remains to be scheduled for late 2024. It appears ludicrous, if not tortuous for all of the individuals engaged on Artemis {that a} new and extra cheap date has not but been established. But an announcement of a brand new goal date has to occur quickly. Right?

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