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NASA offers new date for crewed lunar landing as hopes for 2024 fade

NASA has revealed that it won’t meet its 2024 target date for landing the first woman and first person of color on the moon.

Speaking to reporters during a conference call on Tuesday, November 9, NASA chief Bill Nelson said the date, set by the Trump administration in 2019, was “not grounded in technical feasibility,” adding that the space agency is now looking at “no earlier than 2025” for the lunar landing.

The news will not come as a great surprise to those who have been following the development of NASA’s moon-focused Artemis program, with a slew of issues — rising costs and the pandemic among them — putting increasing pressure on the original 2024 deadline.

During the call, Nelson explained that a recent court case brought by aerospace company Blue Origin regarding a contract dispute linked to the lunar lander project also impacted its plans, losing the agency seven months in litigation.

The NASA chief discussed the two Artemis missions that will take place before the crewed lunar landing. Artemis I, which will see the first use of its almighty SLS “megarocket” and Orion spacecraft, was supposed to launch this year but is now set for spring 2022 at the earliest, while Artemis II, which will send a crew on a flyby of the moon using the same spaceflight system, is slated for 2024.

Nelson also spoke of a space race with China, which is currently building out its new Earth-orbiting space station as well as eyeing the moon for a crewed landing.

“The Chinese space program is increasingly capable of landing Chinese taikonauts much earlier than originally expected,” the NASA chief said, adding that the U.S. will be “as aggressive as we can be, in a safe and technically feasible way, to beat our competitors with boots on the moon” in the first lunar landing of this century.

Whether NASA can meet its new 2025 timeline for the first crewed lunar landing since 1972 remains to be seen, but Nelson stressed that for it to have a chance, the agency will need additional cash from Congress.

“There will be the need of a significant increase in funding,” Nelson said, adding: “And that’s going to be starting with the 2023 budget.”

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