NASA delays Moon return

Humans will have to wait a little longer to walk on the Moon after NASA confirmed it was pushing back the launch dates for its next set of Artemis missions.

Artemis II, which will put a crewed Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit, will now take place no earlier than September 2025. It was originally scheduled for November this year.

That will also push back Artemis III, which would mark the return of astronauts to the Moon’s surface for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. It will fly no earlier than September 2026.

Artemis ii check out their orion crew module.
The Artemis II astronauts will need to wait at least another year to ride the Orion Spacecraft. Credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA

These pushbacks will come as little surprise to industry observers or space enthusiasts. In December, a US government audit was sceptical these missions would fly on time, given critical delays.

The previous timeline was found to be 13 months shorter than the average for most NASA projects, which the Government Audit Office (GAO) observed were usually uncrewed projects.

As well as NASA’s own delays, the GAO cited setbacks with contractors. SpaceX has seen persistent delays with Artemis’ Human Landing System – a modified version of its own ‘Starship’ spacecraft – with its Starship test flights yet to land successfully.

It also said Axiom Space – tasked with building new spacesuits for Artemis astronauts – would need to carry out “significant work” to meet deadlines.

In a statement NASA confirmed its leaders “emphasized the importance of all partners delivering on time so the agency can maximize the flight objectives”.

NASA itself is still reviewing the performance of the heat shield on the Earth re-entry of Artemis I, and testing safety components necessary for human safety on-board Orion.

These delays will also force back the fourth Artemis mission, which would incorporate the Gateway orbital space station – a facility circling the Moon that would act as an interchange for spacecraft arrival and departures, lunar landings and on-station scientific research. The first modules of Gateway were due to be launched in October 2025. 

Artemis I was largely hailed a success in November 2022 when Orion was put into lunar orbit.

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