NASA announced that it will delay the plans for an astronaut mission to land on the moon to 2025 at the earliest. However, the target set by former President Donald Trump administration is 2024, the U.S. space agency’s chief said on Tuesday, Nov. 9.
Speaking at a news conference, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the main reason for extending the target date is the legal wrangling over the SpaceX contract to build the Artemis lunar landing vehicle and the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role, Reuters reported.
“We lost nearly seven months in litigation, and that likely has pushed the first human landing likely to no earlier than 2025,” said Nelson, a former astronaut and U.S. senator appointed by President Joe Biden to lead the space agency.
He added that Congress had previously approved too little money for the program, and the Trump administration’s “target of a 2024 human landing was not grounded in technical feasibility.”
According to CNBC, a protest and lawsuit filed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin earlier this year caused the loss of nearly seven months of work with Elon Musk’s SpaceX on the latter company’s lunar lander contract with NASA.
The litigation came after 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 deliver the astronauts to the moon. But a federal court ruling last week ended the work stoppage, with Blue Origin losing its lawsuit against NASA.
In 2017, Trump signed the Space Policy Directive 1, directing NASA to return Americans to the moon’s surface and onward to Mars.
The Trump administration declared in 2019 an accelerated goal of putting Americans back on the moon within five years “by any means necessary,” and NASA’s top present official immediately accepted the challenge.
At the time, former Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. was in a new “space race” to counter Russia and China’s potential space weaponry capabilities.
NASA has launched three astronaut crews aboard SpaceX rocketships to the International Space Station since 2020. The mission is expected in orbit this week.
Nelson said that China’s recent progress in human spaceflight motivates them regarding the Artemis project, which aims to eventually establish a long-term human colony on the moon as a precursor to sending astronauts to Mars.
According to Nelson’s outline, the Artemis I mission targets liftoff without crews in February 2022. The first crewed flight, Artemis II—a mission that would take humans farther than those have ever flown—and return them to Earth, now expected no sooner than 2025.
He claimed that NASA will determine as much as possible to “be in a safe and technically feasible way to beat out competitors with boots on the moon.”