NASA’s Moon Landing Will Likely Be Delayed ‘Several Years’ Beyond 2024, Auditors Say

"NASA is not properly estimating costs for the Artemis program and could spend $93 billion between fiscal years 2021 and 2025," writes Slashdot reader schwit1. "NASA recently extended its target date for sending astronauts back to the moon to 2025 at the earliest." But, according to a new report (PDF) from NASA's Office of the Inspector General, it could be several years after 2024. The Verge reports: The recent prediction comes from NASA's Office of the Inspector General, which does periodic audits of the space agency's various programs. In its latest report, the OIG took a comprehensive look at NASA's Artemis program, the agency's ambitious initiative to send people back to the Moon, as well as land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface. [...] NASA's Artemis program relies on a suite of complicated vehicles all working together to get astronauts safely to the Moon, including a massive new rocket called the Space Launch System, or SLS, that will send people to deep space inside a new crew capsule called Orion. Meanwhile, SpaceX is developing its next-generation spacecraft, called Starship, to carry people to and from the lunar surface for NASA -- part of a $2.9 billion contract awarded to the company in April. However, Starship is still in very early stages of development and has yet to launch to orbit. SLS and Orion also have not flown on their first flight together. The OIG report, released Monday, highlights these issues and reveals just how much work is left to be done on Artemis, making a 2024 landing date unrealistic. "Given the time needed to develop and fully test the HLS and new spacesuits, we project NASA will exceed its current timetable for landing humans on the Moon in late 2024 by several years," the report states. [...] Rival space company Blue Origin had also hoped to receive a contract from NASA to develop a lunar lander, but when the space agency gave the award to SpaceX, the company sued in federal court. The lawsuit prevented NASA and SpaceX from working together on the lander until the litigation was resolved. The OIG report notes that the lawsuit did have an impact on the overall schedule, but the office also argues that the development schedule for SpaceX's Starship is overly optimistic. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk continues to make bold predictions for Starship's first major test launch, claiming multiple times it'd be ready to fly to orbit for the first time this year. However, the OIG report estimates the first orbital flight test of Starship will occur sometime in the second quarter of 2022. The document does argue that SpaceX may be able to shave off some time due to its speedy testing pace compared with earlier NASA spaceflight programs. But there is still quite a lot of work to be done after Starship's orbital flight test. [...] The OIG report predicts that the debut of NASA's SLS rocket and Orion combo will also be delayed.

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