Moon Landing Postponed in 2026: NASA has announced that it will postpone the first crewed moon landing since 1972 by a year, citing safety and technical challenges with its own spacecraft and those of its private partners. The new target date for the Artemis 3 mission, which will see four astronauts land on the lunar surface using SpaceX’s Starship vehicle, is September 2026. The previous plan was to launch the mission in late 2025.
The delay is the latest setback for NASA’s ambitious Artemis program, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon and pave the way for future exploration of Mars. The program has faced funding shortfalls, political uncertainty, and technical hurdles since its inception in 2019.
The Starship Challenge
One of the main reasons for the postponement is the development of Starship, the reusable rocket and spacecraft system that SpaceX is building to transport humans and cargo to the moon and beyond. Starship is a key component of the Artemis 3 mission, as it will serve as the lunar lander that will ferry the astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface and back.
However, Starship is still in the early stages of testing, and has yet to demonstrate a successful orbital flight or a safe landing. Two Starship test flights in 2023 ended in explosions, and the vehicle has faced regulatory and environmental challenges from the Federal Aviation Administration and local authorities in Texas, where SpaceX has its launch site.
NASA has awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop Starship for the Artemis program, but the deal has been contested by rival bidders Blue Origin and Dynetics, who have filed protests with the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is expected to issue a ruling on the matter by August 2024.
The Orion Issue
Another factor that contributed to the delay is the Orion capsule, the spacecraft that will carry the astronauts from Earth to lunar orbit and back. Orion, which is built by Lockheed Martin, has faced issues with its heat shield, batteries, and electrical system, according to NASA officials. Orion successfully completed an uncrewed test flight around the moon in December 2022, but has not yet flown with humans on board.
The first crewed flight of Orion, dubbed Artemis 2, has also been pushed back by a year, from late 2024 to September 2025. Artemis 2 will involve four astronauts flying around the moon and back, without landing on the surface. The mission will serve as a dress rehearsal for Artemis 3, and will test the performance and safety of Orion and the Space Launch System, the powerful rocket that will launch both missions.
The Artemis Vision
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said that the delays will allow the agency and its partners to work through the challenges and ensure the safety of the astronauts. He also reaffirmed NASA’s commitment to the Artemis program, and its goal of sending the first woman and the first person of color to the moon.
“The moon is a stepping stone to our ultimate destination: Mars,” Nelson said. “We are not giving up on our vision of exploration and discovery. We are simply being realistic about the time and resources it will take to get there.”
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