An inspector general report on Tuesday revealed that NASA's new astronaut space suits are nearly two years behind schedule and will impede its efforts to land humans on the Moon in 2024. NASA faces a number of challenges, including delays in developing its new lunar lander that is human-rated and getting its Space Launch System rocket to the ground.
According to an audit by NASA's Office of Inspector General, NASA will spend more than $1B on space suit development before its first two suits are ready. This would occur in April 2025, according to the report. Due to the delays in spacesuit design, it is unlikely that NASA will be able to launch a lunar landing in 2024, as NASA currently plans.
NASA's Artemis program, which was created by Trump in 2019, aims to send astronauts back to the Moon. Former Vice President Mike Pence had set the date for a crewed landing on the Moon in 2024, which President Biden's transition team considered unrealistic. NASA is still committed to the date with Bill Nelson, NASA's administrator, claiming that delays are possible because space is difficult.
NASA's space suit design has evolved with changing space priorities, driving up delays and increasing costs.
The report stated that NASA has spent $420 million in space suit development, before the advent its Artemis program. It plans to spend approximately $625.2 millions more through 2025. As NASA's priorities shift between different administrations, the space suit design and purpose has changed over time. In 2019, a new Artemis-tailored spacesuit design was revealed, the xEMU. The current suits astronauts wear on the International Space Station are restricted, haven't been updated in decades and aren't built for long walks on Moon.
The xEMU program provided 12 months of flexibility to allow for delays in development, so it was able to avoid any problems on its way to meeting the 2024 Artemis deadline. The report revealed that NASA has lost this schedule margin due to funding shortages, closing of NASA centers during the COVID-19 epidemic, and other technical difficulties. NASA cut the $209 million budget for space suits by $59 million after Congress provided NASA with 77 percent of its request for the Gateway Program in 2021 under which space suits are made. The report stated that the program was delayed by three months.
The report stated that the delays were caused by the intermittent closing of NASA's Johnson Space Center due to the pandemic. Hardware problems were another factor. Other design changes and redesigns caused problems with the suits Display and Control Unit, which astronauts will use for controlling the critical functions of the suit. Rework was needed to fix circuit boards that are a critical part of the suit's life support system.
NASA stopped testing the suits assembly process, causing another delay to the program. After staff made a complex interface for the life support system, they caused an unspecified component to fail. Auditors interviewed NASA personnel to find out the reasons for this error. Other factors were a breakdown in communication between the team, rapid growth of the team, and the addition to inexperienced personnel. These issues were also blamed by NASA personnel who told auditors.
The report states that 27 entities are currently pitching in to make different parts of the space suit. NASA had previously only two companies to build the space suits that it uses on the ISS: Hamilton Standard and ILC Dover.
It seems like there are too many cooks in the kitchen Elon Musk (@elonmusk), August 10, 2021
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk commented on Twitter that it seemed like there were too many chefs in the kitchen. He added another tweet: SpaceX could make it if needed. SpaceX flight suits are SpaceX-designed and not long-duration space suits. AxiomSpace, which posted new jobs this month for space suit engineers, is one of the private companies that has already begun to develop their own space suits.
NASA's problems with its space suit are not the only threat to its 2024 goals. NASA's safety panel, the agency's inspector general and the Government Accountability Office raised concerns that delays in NASA's Human Lunar Lander and Space Launch System programs will make it nearly impossible to land in 2024. The safety panel also expressed concern about the possibility of engineers feeling pressured by the hastened landing date.
NASAs human exploration chief Kathy Lueders responded to the report by saying that NASA plans to rejig their space suit development schedule and conduct a space suit testing on the ISS before the first crewed Artemis mission, which is scheduled for 2023. NASA's Orion capsule will carry astronauts around the Moon without any lunar landing. Artemis III will be the next mission to land on the Moon.
Lueders stated that testing and demonstration of the space suits on the ISS is a priority.