Jackie Wattles, CNN, January 11, 2024
NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon this decade amid a renewed international push for lunar exploration, is facing some lengthy delays, the space agency has announced.
The Artemis III mission, planned to hit the the crucial milestone of landing humans on the moon for the first time since the Apollo program, will not take off until at least September 2026, NASA officials said at a news conference Tuesday. The journey had previously been slated for 2025.
The primary reasons for the delay include SpaceX’s outlook for developing Starship, the gargantuan rocket and spacecraft system that is expected to ferry astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon’s south pole. Two Starship test flights in 2023 ended in explosions.
NASA officials added that they are also expecting delays in engineering the spacesuits astronauts will wear while on the moon’s surface. Both SpaceX’s Starship development and the spacesuits were factors that government watchdogs, including NASA’s inspector general, have cited as potential factors that could cause delays for the Artemis III mission.
Additionally, as CNN first reported, NASA’s Artemis II mission — which aims to carry a four-person crew on a trip to fly by the moon — will no longer hit its target launch date of November this year. The agency announced Tuesday the new target date for Artemis II is September 2025.
That delay is linked in part to issues with the Orion crew capsule that will be home to the astronauts during the mission. The space agency previously disclosed that the spacecraft’s heat shield, which keeps Orion from burning up as the vehicle reenters the Earth’s atmosphere, became charred and eroded in an unexpected way during the uncrewed Artemis I mission in 2022, according to Amit Kshatriya, the deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Moon to Mars Program.
There is also still much work to do on the Orion crew capsule’s life support system and valves that failed during testing, Kshatriya said. NASA officials indicated that they expect the lift support systems to take the longest to prepare for flight.