NASA has made no secret of its desire to get people back to the Moon by 2024. Under NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine’s stewardship since 2018, the space agency has made impressive strides in its mission to return astronauts to the Moon since 2024.
This includes making progress on its SLS rockets, which will be used as part of the Artemis mission.
Mr Bridenstine has continuously stated humans will return to the Moon by the middle of this decade, but that now appears to be wide of the mark.
An audit from the space agency’s office of inspector general (OIG) said it “will be hard-pressed” in “achieving any date close to this ambitious goal”.
Part of the NASA mission will see it build a ‘Gateway’ – a laboratory which will orbit the Moon, much like the International Space Station (ISS) does around Earth.
However, the OIG report said the space agency is well behind schedule in this regard.
The report said: “Gateway’s initial elements, scheduled to launch together in early 2024, consist of the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), which powers and propels the spacecraft in orbit, and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), which provides a docking location for the Orion capsule and living and working spaces for crewmembers.
“To date, NASA has spent over half a billion dollars and almost 3 years of design work on the PPE and HALO.”
It continued: “The development schedules for both the PPE and HALO have been negatively impacted by the Agency’s still-evolving Gateway requirements, including NASA’s decision to co-manifest and launch the two elements on the same commercial rocket rather than separately as initially intended.
“Given this decision, the PPE is likely to launch at least 17 months behind its original date of December 2022 while HALO has 2 to 5 months of schedule risk, potentially moving its launch readiness date further into 2024.”
While the report added the mission could be achieved with “strong, consistent, sustained leadership from the president… as well as stable and timely funding” it said there are likely to be further unexpected costs.
It said: “We anticipate further schedule delays and cost increases, making the Gateway unlikely to be available for the planned 2024 lunar landing”.
The OIG report added: “Over the past decade, our oversight work has found NASA consistently struggling to address each of these significant issues and the Artemis mission’s accelerated timetable will likely further exacerbate these challenges.”
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To further compound the issue is the fact the US is changing president.
As such, Jim Bridenstine, who was appointed by President Trump as head of NASA in 2018, will step down following Joe Biden’s election win.
Mr Bridenstine told Aerospace Daily: “[What] you need is somebody who has a close relationship with the president of the United States.
“You need somebody who is trusted by the administration… including the OMB [Office of Management and Budget], the National Space Council and the National Security Council, and I think that I would not be the right person for that in a new administration.
“We’ve had a lot of success, but it’s because of relationships.
“You have to have those relationships.
“Whoever the president is, they have to have somebody they know and trust and somebody the administration trusts.
“That person is not going to be me.”