The announcement comes after a federal judge threw out Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origins’ lawsuit against NASA over awarding a nearly $3-billion contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has delayed its manned mission to the moon until 2025. The US space agency last sent humans to the moon as part of the Apollo Lunar Mission in 1972.
NASA had initially planned to launch its Artemis programme to send the next man and first woman to the moon by 2024. The latest announcement comes after a federal judge threw out Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origins’ lawsuit against NASA over awarding a nearly $3-billion contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Blue Origins lawsuit
Blue Origin was among 10 companies that NASA selected in 2018 for studies and advance technologies to collect and use space-based resources for moon and Mars missions. In 2019, Blue Origins signed an agreement that allowed it to use NASA’s historic test stand.
The $2.9 billion contract awarded to SpaceX is for building a lunar lander to transport astronauts. Bezos’ company claimed in its lawsuit that NASA was unlawful and improper in its evaluation of proposals.
Following the judge’s verdict, NASA said in a statement that it continued to work with multiple American companies to boost competition and commercial readiness for manned lunar missions.
NASA said it would provide companies with more opportunities to partner in establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon as part of the Artemis programme. These include a call to US industry for recurring crewed lunar landing services in 2022.
NASA’s reasons for the delay
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said NASA was facing several challenges in deep space exploration. The lunar landing was delayed due to first-time development challenges, delays caused by the seven-month lawsuit, the US Congress not allocating sufficient funds to competitors that want to work with it under the Human Landing System deals, and Covid-19.
Another reason, Nelson said, was the Trump administration’s goal to launch the programme in 2024. Nelson said in a statement that the goal was not feasible technically.
NASA plans at least 10 moon landings in the future and it needs significant increases in funding for lander competition in the future, starting with the budget in 2023, he said.
NASA and the moon
The US began trying to send humans into space 1961. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk the moon as part of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission.
Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin walked on the moon for over three hours, conducted experiments, and collected moondust and rocks. They also left a US flag on the moon.
Apart from space exploration, NASA’s plans to send Americans to the moon is to exert American leadership in space and establish a strategic presence on the lunar surface while expanding the US’s global economic impact.
When they land, the American astronauts will set foot on the moon’s south pole, where no human has ever been, said NASA.
The Soviet Union’s unmanned Luna 1 and 2 were became the rover to visit the moon. Seven nations have followed suit since then. It also sent three robotic missions between 1961 and 1968. Twelve American astronauts have walked on the lunar surface until 1972. The Apollo astronauts brought back a combined 382 kg lunar rock and soil for studies.
The US resumed lunar exploration with robotic missions — the Clementine and Lunar Prospector — in the 1990s. It began a series of robotic missions in 2009 with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.
The ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun) mission began in 2011 with NASA using a couple of repurposed spacecraft. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory spacecraft studied lunar gravity in 2012.
The European Space Agency, China, Japan, and India have also sent missions to the moon. China landed two rovers, including the first-ever on the moon’s far side in 2019. The Indian Space Research Organisation has announced Chandrayaan-3, the country’s third lunar mission, comprising a rover and a lander.