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NASA report casts doubt on achieving moon landing by 2024

NASA has said that it will be unlikely to achieve its hoped-for moon landing in 2024, with funding issues, rising costs, and schedule delays all impacting the ambitious mission.

In its 2020 Report on NASA’s Top Management and Performance Challenges, released this week, the space agency listed the growing challenges regarding its goal to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface within the next four years as part of the Artemis program, admitting for the first time that it will be “hard-pressed” to meet the proposed 2024 date.

NASA had originally been looking to put humans back on the moon by 2028, but in the spring of last year, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence directed the agency to make it happen by the end of 2024.

But a slew of ongoing issues means the shorter time frame is simply too much of a squeeze.

In the report, NASA said that “many questions remain about the total cost, schedule, and scope of the agency’s lunar ambitions”

In the near term, for example, production and flight certification for its moon-bound SLS rocket system still need to be completed, as well as engine and core stage testing. This part of the project has suffered delays in part due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, plans for the moon-orbiting Lunar Gateway for delivering astronauts and equipment to the moon, and the all-important lunar lander, also need to be finalized.

“Given the multiple challenges … we believe the agency will be hard-pressed to land astronauts on the moon by the end of 2024,” NASA said. “At the very least, achieving any date close to this ambitious goal — and reaching Mars in the 2030s — will require strong, consistent, sustained leadership from the president, Congress, and NASA, as well as stable and timely funding.”

Following the White House’s request last year to speed up work to achieve a moon landing by the end of 2024, NASA created the Artemis program and requested an additional $1.6 billion in its 2020 budget as initial funding to help it meet its goal.

To support the initial lunar landing capability, the agency asked for more than $7 billion for Artemis in 2021, though the agency has estimated it will require further funds to the tune of $28 billion between 2021 and 2025.

The Democratic Party of President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to support NASA’s work to return Americans to the moon, though it has declined to mention any dates.

While it’s certainly not unusual to miss deadlines when it comes to such ambitious space projects, the news will nevertheless come as a disappointment to NASA fans who were looking forward to witnessing a 2024 moon landing. In light of this week’s development, it seems there’s a fair chance that NASA’s original 2028 target date for an astronaut mission to the surface of the moon could be reinstated.

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