NASA has pushed back its timeline for the crewed Artemis missions that will send human beings to the Moon. The first one, Artemis II, was supposed to take place later this year, but now it will launch in September 2025 to orbit the Earth’s satellite, with the landing mission, Artemis III, now planned for a year later in September 2026. NASA said the Artemis IV mission to take humans to the lunar Gateway space station in 2028 is still on track.
The future missions are intended to “establish the foundation for long-term scientific exploration at the Moon” and “land the first woman and the first person of color” on its surface. The Artemis missions use NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, which was also subject to years of setbacks before NASA deemed it ready for duty.
NASA said that it is pushing the missions back primarily to make sure its crew is safe, as the agency needs to resolve a battery issue and work on circuitry related to environmental systems, including air ventilation. A Reuters report yesterday said that NASA had found an issue with the batteries in the Orion capsule built by Lockheed Martin during vibration testing and that they’d need replacing. NASA also said it expects to finish investigating why the capsule lost char layers during its 2022 reentry into Earth’s atmosphere this spring.
Artemis I launched in 2022, sending NASA’s Orion capsule to orbit the Moon for a week and fly back to the Earth, a trip that took a little under a month. The agency says the uncrewed mission gave the agency data that led to its decision to push these missions back. “We are letting the hardware talk to us so that crew safety drives our decision-making. We will use the Artemis II flight test, and each flight that follows, to reduce risk for future Moon missions,” said Catherine Koerner, NASA’s associate administrator of its Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.
The Artemis program originally had a longer timeline, with plans to get the lunar Gateway, a small planned space station that orbits the Moon, into place by 2026 and astronauts on the lunar surface by 2028, until Vice President Mike Pence announced in 2019 that the Trump administration was accelerating the schedule, pushing for a 2024 crewed landing.
NASA announced in 2021 that it was delaying its attempt at landing humans on the Moon to 2025, a date which NASA auditors said in a report was still unlikely. The report blamed obstacles like NASA’s expensive contracts with Boeing and Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin’s federal lawsuit over NASA’s choice to award SpaceX with a lunar lander contract had slowed the mission too much.
Update January 9th, 2024, 4:01PM ET: Updated with more details about the delay and context around the Artemis mission.