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The United States will send a crewed mission to the Moon “no earlier than 2025,” NASA chief Bill Nelson told reporters on Tuesday, officially pushing back the launch by at least a year.

A target of 2024 was set by the administration of former president Donald Trump when it launched the Artemis program.

But the program has since faced numerous development delays ranging from its vehicles to the space suits required.

Last week, NASA won a court case brought by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin which sued after losing a lander contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

“We lost nearly seven months in litigation and that likely has pushed the first human landing likely to no earlier than 2025,” Nelson said on a call.

“The good news is that NASA is making solid progress,” said Nelson, citing the fact that the mission’s Orion crew capsule has since last week been stacked atop the giant Space Launch System rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA is targeting a first uncrewed mission, Artemis 1, in February 2022, and Artemis 2, the first crewed mission that will perform a flyby of the Moon, in 2024.

Separately, SpaceX needs to carry out an uncrewed landing to test out the lunar version of its Starship rocket, before the same vehicle is used for the crewed landing.

Nelson revealed NASA was committed to a total development cost for Orion of $9.3 billion, which encompasses the period between 2012 and 2024, up from the previous estimate of $6.7 billion.

– New space race with China –

But he warned more funding would be required from Congress to meet the new timelines, adding: “The Chinese space program is increasingly capable of landing Chinese taikonauts much earlier than originally expected.”

“We are facing a very aggressive and good Chinese space program,” he continued.

“It’s the position of NASA, and I believe the United States government, that we want to be there first back on the Moon after half a century.”

China, the world’s second-largest economy, has put billions into its military-run space program, with hopes of having a permanently crewed space station by 2022.

It has already sent rovers to the Moon, including one to the far side, and is aiming for a first crewed lunar mission by 2029.

Humans last landed on the Moon in 1972 on America’s Apollo 17 mission.

NASA says the Artemis program will include the first woman and first person of color to set foot on the surface of Earth’s natural satellite.

The agency wants to build a sustained habitat on the Moon and use the lessons learned from long expeditions there to develop a crewed mission to Mars by the 2030s.

NASA pushes back astronaut lunar landing goal to 2025
Washington DC (UPI) Nov 9, 2021 – NASA has pushed back its goal to land people on the moon to no earlier than 2025, agency administrator Bill Nelson said in a press conference Tuesday.

Nelson blamed some of the delay on a lawsuit by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company, which a federal claims court judge dismissed Thursday.

“We’ve lost nearly seven months in litigation and that likely has pushed the first human landing likely to no earlier than 2025,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the Artemis I mission is nearing a launch by February, and the first crewed lunar mission, Artemis II — which would not land on the moon, but orbit it — also would slip backward by a year to 2024.

Either way, such missions would be the first return of human-rated America spacecraft to the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

Nelson also took a dig at the Trump Administration’s announcement in 2019 that NASA should return to the moon in just five years.

“The Trump administration target of a 2024 human landing was not grounded in technical feasibility,” he said.

Nelson and deputy administrator Pam Melroy, a former astronaut, cited the COVID-19 pandemic as an additional challenge for new moonshots.

“It hasn’t been easy,” Melroy said. “[NASA employees] have been logging overtime and doing double-duty in the middle of a pandemic. We recognize that extraordinary effort, and we’re fully committed to the Artemis program.”

For the current budget, NASA requested $3.4 billion for lunar human spaceflight while Congress approved $850 million.

Besides lunar landers, NASA also needs updated spacesuits, said Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development. Cost projections for spacesuit development are approaching $1 billion over a period of years, according to a report from NASA’s Office of the Inspector General.

“Landing humans on the Moon is a complex feat that requires integration of multiple components, including modern spacesuits,” Free said, adding that NASA intends to make new spacesuit contract awards in 2022.

NASA had said it wants at least two finalists to build two unique landers for upcoming Artemis moon missions. But in April, the agency gave one contract to SpaceX, blaming the single award on a lack of congressional funding.

Blue Origin, which also had bid on the contract, challenged NASA’s decision in an administrative venue and in federal claims court.

Since the suit was dismissed, NASA has met with SpaceX about pushing ahead with the lunar plans, Nelson said.

“I spoke last Friday with Gwynne Shotwell, [president] of Space X, … and we both underscored the importance of returning to the moon as quickly and safely as possible,” Nelson said.

He added, “All these ambitious plans are contingent on funding” approvals from Congress.

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