NASA is preparing to postpone the return of humans to the Moon

NASA is considering changing the objectives of the Artemis III mission in the event of serious delays with the readiness of its key components. This was stated by Jim Free, head of the NASA Research Systems Development Directorate.

The Starship Human Landing System (HLS) spacecraft for the Artemis III mission (concept). Source: SpaceX

The Artemis III mission is scheduled to be launched at the end of 2025. As part of it, NASA plans to land two astronauts at the south pole of the Moon using the Starship LHS lander, which is being created by SpaceX. 

So far, NASA has not changed the formal launch date of Artemis III. But now almost no one doubts that such a shift will take place. The main reason is the state of readiness of Starship LHS. A few weeks ago, NASA representatives visited the SpaceX base to get acquainted on the spot with how things were going with the creation of the spacecraft. According to Free, the company has provided an updated schedule for the development of Starship LHS. NASA is currently studying it, after which it will make adjustments to its plans.

Free also noted that in case of long delays in the creation of the necessary equipment for Artemis III, NASA was considering changing the mission objectives. He did not say what exactly such a change would be expressed in. But it is obvious that without Starship LHS, Artemis III crew members will not be able to set foot on the lunar surface. 

Artemis II Mission Readiness

As for the Artemis II mission, things are much more favorable in its case. NASA is actively engaged in its preparation. And although there are a number of factors that can shift the launch date of the expedition, so far the engineers manage to cope with the assigned tasks without serious delays.

Flight plan of the Artemis II mission. Source: NASA

The main concern now is the heat shield of the Orion spacecraft, which received more than expected damage during the Artemis I mission last year. Engineers are still working to determine the root cause of the incident, conducting tests in an arc chamber simulating atmospheric entry conditions. 

At the moment, the launch of Artemis II is scheduled for November 2024. During the mission, the Orion spacecraft with four astronauts will fly around the Moon and then return to Earth.

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