Most of the world's population wasn't alive the last time a human set foot on the Moon, and now we'll have to wait a little longer to see the event reoccur. NASA has announced it is still committed to the Artemis Program to return humans to our satellite, but the earliest possible human landing date has been set back by at least a year to 2025. Although they admit “other factors” contributed, NASA has singled out Blue Origin's lawsuit for blame, something to consider whenever Jeff Bezos claims to be helping make humans multi-planetary.
NASA has been keen to return to the Moon for many years, and in 2017 was given the go-ahead for the program named Artemis. Artemis intends to establish a base on the Moon with a sustainable human presence, which could act as a stepping stone to Mars. In the shorter term, however, it plans the uncrewed mission Artemis 1 launching next year, followed by a crewed mission that will, among other things, land the first woman on the Moon.
That was initially intended to take place in 2024, but now “The first human landing under Artemis is likely no earlier than 2025,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced.
In April NASA selected SpaceX to supply the Human Landing System for the mission at a price of $2.9 billion. The choice was hardly surprising – SpaceX has a demonstrated record of reliability in carrying first supplies, and more recently astronauts, to and from the International Space Station. Its competitors can currently demonstrate nothing more than suborbital hops beyond the atmosphere. Also, they don't look as embarrassing.
That didn't stop Bezos from being outraged at the decision and launching a lawsuit against NASA alleging it “Disregarded key flight safety requirements.” NASA warned the lawsuit could cause a delay to humans returning to the Moon. The suit was dismissed last week, but it seems too late to solve the issue.
“We’re pleased with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims’ thorough evaluation of NASA’s source selection process for the human landing system (HLS), and we have already resumed conversations with SpaceX,” Nelson said. “It’s clear we’re both eager to get back to work together and establish a new timeline for our initial lunar demonstration missions. Returning to the Moon as quickly and safely as possible is an agency priority.”
However, he said the lawsuit was among the reasons the 2024 landing date was no longer feasible. Instead, Nelson said a crewed test flight will occur by May 2024 at least, but while this will take humans further from Earth than we have ever gone before, another Moon landing will have to wait another year or more.
Inevitably, the money granted to NASA isn't sufficient for everything planned. “Going forward, NASA is planning for at least 10 Moon landings in the future, and the agency needs significant increases in funding for future lander competition, starting with the 2023 budget,” Nelson said.
NASA claims the delay “Does not affect later Artemis mission schedules and lunar surface plans,” including the construction of Gateway, a lunar orbiting outpost.
The lawsuit could be a convenient excuse for an inability to meet an unrealistically short deadline set for political reasons, or it could be evidence billionaires' egos are an obstacle, not an asset, in humanity's quest into space.