The first crewed landing of the Artemis program will take place no earlier than the year 2026, according to the inspector general.
The Artemis program is facing delays to its first mission as well, and NASA Inspector General Paul Martin delivered the news to lawmakers during a House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.
The date for a crewed lunar landing is likely to slip to 2026, given the time needed to develop and test the human landing system and NASA's next generation spacesuits, according to Martin.
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These items have been difficult points for Artemis for a while. According to an audit by the NASA Office of Inspector General, the first four Artemis missions are expected to cost $4.1 billion.
The delays and extra budget are partly due to technical issues, and partly due to protests and a lawsuit by Blue Origin last year, concerning NASA's sole-sourced award of the HLS contract to SpaceX.
The Artemis 1 flight around the moon is in doubt due to the amount of data analysis and other work that needs to be done.
Martin acknowledged that the inspector general is more critical of timelines than NASA, but said that the agency doesn't appear to be feasible. The deadline is an extension of the Trump-era landing that was abandoned in November.
Martin said there are challenges that need to be faced, not the least of which would be getting the human landing system certified to operate spacesuits, along with changes in the agency's acquisition strategy that is expected to take more time in procuring key technologies.
He said that these factors point to taking longer and requiring development to get there. It seems impossible, but it is not.
The US Government Accountability Office indicated pessimism with the goal of putting people on the moon again in the year 2025.
According to testimony from William Russell, the GAO's director of contracting and national security acquisitions, the problem is that NASA is trying to manage multiple risks at the same time.
Russell pointed to factors such as the seven-month delay caused by the HLS disputes, a key change in spacesuit development to pivot the work to a contractor instead of in-house work, and cost growth for the Space Launch System rocket and other key infrastructure required to support a human landing.
The GAO found that NASA had not finalized roles, responsibilities and authority for Artemis, and that the agency was in the process of reorganizing the Human Exploration Mission Directorate.
It is too early to tell the outcome of this effort, he added.
NASA pointed to unforeseen issues that contributed to cost growth and schedule delays, particularly involving the coronaviruses pandemic, which has created supply chain hiccup and personnel challenges due to safety protocols.
James Free, the agency's associate administrator of the exploration systems development mission directorate, said that every bit of work is possible because of the people of NASA and their private sector partners.
The people have delivered even though their homes were damaged, and without power due to storms. They have come with the spirit of exploration that will always be as tangible as the hardware.
More information on costs and timelines will be forthcoming as NASA formulates its next budget, but Free did not speak directly about timelines for the Artemis 3 crew landing. His approach is to keep a realistic schedule and budget.
Due to the addition of Artemis, the reason for the reorganization was to deal with a greater scope of programs. The work was done to have his organization work on the development, and then to hand off the operations to NASA once the technology is mature.
The ultimate goal of Artemis is to put two people on the surface of Mars for 30 days and safely return them to Earth.
NASA would be able to learn about the behavior of astronauts in a partial gravity environment if they worked on the moon.
Martin, speaking on behalf of NASA's Office of the Inspector General, said he hasn't received a reliable estimate yet on the cost of a Red Planet mission.
Martin said that Mr. Free indicated rebuilding NASA's building capabilities, many of which they hope to use on an eventual Mars mission.
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