Nasa’s plans to return humans to the surface of moon to be delayed by 2026: Watchdog

Nasa has completed the stacking of the agency’s mega-Moon rocket and spacecraft that will launch the next generation of deep space operations, including Artemis missions.

Even as Nasa assembles its mega-rocket that will return humans to the Moon, this time with aspirations for a longer presence and to push forward to Mars, a new report states that the crewed mission is not likely to happen till 2026. The American space agency had last week extended its target date for crew launch to 2025 at the earliest in its Artemis program.

The US government watchdog said Nasa failed to accurately estimate the cost of returning astronauts to the moon and it “lacks a comprehensive and accurate cost estimate that accounts for all Artemis program costs.”

Artemis is meant as a stepping stone toward a greater objective of sending astronauts to Mars and beyond in the interstellar world in the coming decades.

The report found that Nasa uses a rough estimate for the first three missions “that excludes $25 billion for key activities related to planned missions beyond Artemis III.” Nasa was likely to spend $93 billion on the program through 2025 and faced a $4.1 billion cost-per-launch for at least its first four Artemis missions.

Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson cited delays from legal wrangling over a contract with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build the Artemis lunar landing vehicle as a major reason for extending the target date. The contract had fallen into a legal hurdle after jeff Bezos led Blue Origin dragged the space agency to the court over the deal, halting the designing and development of the lander by SpaceX.

A federal judge on November 4 rejected the lawsuit against the US government challenging Nasa’s decision to award a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to SpaceX. Meanwhile, as an additional reason for extending the target date, Nelson cited Congress for having approved too little money for the program and the Trump administration for having set a 2024 target that was not feasible. 

Nasa has completed the stacking of the agency’s mega-Moon rocket and spacecraft that will launch the next generation of deep space operations, including Artemis missions. The agency will begin a series of integrated tests ahead of the deep-space lift off. The tests will evaluate the rocket and spacecraft as an integrated system for the first time, building upon each other and culminating in a simulation at the pad to prepare for launch day.

Nasa said that the Artemis I will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate the commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis II.

The Artemis mission is one of the biggest human space exploration undertaken, led by the US. Under the mission, Nasa will return to the lunar surface, land the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon. The agency plans to build a base camp on the lunar surface and a flying outpost in its orbit allowing robots and astronauts “to explore more and conduct more science than ever before.”