NASA has delayed sending next man and first woman to moon

Source: By The Indian Express

NASA has delayed sending astronauts back to the moon until 2025. The last time the US space agency sent humans to the Moon was in 1972, during the Apollo lunar mission.

NASA had planned to launch the Artemis program, a mission that aims to send the next man and the first woman to the Moon, by 2024. The announcement has come after a federal judge ruled against Jeff Bezos owned Blue Origins’ lawsuit against NASA over a nearly $3 billion contract that the space agency awarded to Elon Musk owned SpaceX.

Why did Blue Origins file a lawsuit against NASA?

In 2018, Blue Origin was one of the ten companies selected by NASA to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect process and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. In 2019, both signed an agreement that gave Blue Origin permission to use NASA’s historic test stand, as a part of a growing number of partnerships between the space agency and the commercial space industry.

The $2.9 billion contract for which Blue Origins took legal action against NASA for was awarded to SpaceX is to build a lunar lander to transport astronauts to the Moon. In the lawsuit, Bezos’s company said that the space agency was “unlawful and improper” in its evaluation of the proposals.

In its statement following the judge’s decision, NASA said in a statement, “In addition to this contract, NASA continues working with multiple American companies to bolster competition and commercial readiness for crewed transportation to the lunar surface.

“There will be forthcoming opportunities for companies to partner with NASA in establishing a long-term human presence at the Moon under the agency’s Artemis program, including a call in 2022 to U.S. industry for recurring crewed lunar landing services,” it said.

Are there other reasons why NASA has delayed the lunar landing?

NASA administrator Bill Nelson has said that among the challenges that NASA is facing in deep space exploration, the lunar landing has been delayed in part due to first-time development challenges, the seven-month delay caused by the lawsuit, Congress not appropriating sufficient funds other competitors who want to work with NASA under the Human Landing System (HLS) deals, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another reason, according to Nelson, is the Trump administration’s goal of launching the program in 2024. In a statement, Nelson said that the goal was not technically feasible.

Going forward, NASA is planning for at least 10 Moon landings in the future, and the agency needs significant increases in funding for future lander competition, starting with the 2023 budget,” he said.

NASA and the moon

The US began trying to put people in space as early as in 1961. Eight years later, on 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission. While climbing down the ladder towards the surface of the Moon he famously proclaimed, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong along with Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin walked around the moon for over three hours, doing experiments and picking up bits and pieces of Moondust and rocks. They left a US flag on the Moon along with a sign that said, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon July 1969, AD. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Apart from the purpose of space exploration itself, NASA’s endeavour to send Americans to the Moon again is to demonstrate American leadership in space and to establish a strategic presence on the Moon, while expanding the US global economic impact. “When they land, our American astronauts will step foot where no human has ever been before: the Moon’s South Pole,” says NASA.

Moon exploration

In 1959, the Soviet Union’s uncrewed Luna 1 and 2 became the first rover to visit the Moon. Since then, seven nations have followed suit. Before the US sent the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, it sent three classes of robotic missions between 1961 and 1968. After July 1969, 12 American astronauts walked on the surface of the Moon until 1972. Together, the Apollo astronauts brought back over 382 kg of lunar rock and soil back to Earth for study.

Then in the 1990s, the US resumed lunar exploration with robotic missions Clementine and Lunar Prospector. In 2009, it began a new series of robotic lunar missions with the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).

In 2011, NASA began the ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun) mission using a pair of repurposed spacecraft and in 2012 the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft studied the Moon’s gravity.

Apart from the US, the European Space Agency, Japan, China, and India have sent missions to explore the Moon. China landed two rovers on the surface, which includes the first-ever landing on the Moon’s far side in 2019. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced India’s third lunar mission Chandrayaan-3, which will comprise a lander and a rover.