On Tuesday (Jan. 9), NASA officials participated in a media teleconference and announced the latest update about the forthcoming Artemis crewed missions to the moon. During the teleconference, NASA’s leaders revealed that its flagship Artemis 2 mission which was previously scheduled to launch on November 2024 will now be delayed to September 2025.
Also, the Artemis 3 moon landing mission that was formally scheduled to launch in late 2025 will now be extended to September 2026. The officials noted that the safety of the astronauts is their number one priority.
“Safety is our top priority, and to give Artemis teams more time to work through the challenges with first-time developments, operations, and integration, we’re going to give more time on Artemis 2 and 3,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during the briefing. “So, what I want to tell you is, we are adjusting our schedule to target Artemis 2 for September of 2025 and September of 2026 for Artemis 3, which will send humans for the first time to the lunar south pole.”
NASA’s associate administrator, Jim Free also emphasized the decision to delay the Artemis 2 mission.
“I want to emphasize that safety is our number one priority. You heard it from the administrator today; you’ve heard it multiple times,” Free said during the press conference. “And as we prepare to send our friends and colleagues on this mission, we’re committed to launching as safely as possible. And we will launch when we’re ready. The crew is a constant reminder for us how important it is to remain focused on the work we need to do to ensure their safe return.”
Why Technology Development and Testing Contributed to the delay of Artemis 2 mission
Unlike uncrewed missions to space, NASA has to put extra measures to ensure that astronauts are safe from disasters during future Artemis missions. Amit Kshatriya, who serves as a deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Moon to Mars program outlined some new systems and technologies that NASA is still testing and developing for its Artemis 2 mission.
These new systems include new facilities at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to help in loading propellant much faster, a new abort system, crew ingress and egress, and a new life support system.
“And those are all added there, of course, to support the crew and, of course, to support crew safety,” Kshatriya said.
Kshatriya also noted that the head shield challenges suffered by NASA’s Orion capsule during the unmanned Artemis 1 test flight around the moon in December 2022 have been one of the primary concerns of NASA’s engineers and scientists. Kshatriya explained that NASA’s scientists will study data from the successful Artemis 1 mission over and over again to get the best result.
During that mission, the heat shield did its job by sufficiently protecting the Orion capsule. However, most of the shields did not give the spacecraft enough protection as they charred away.
“We did see the off-nominal recession of some char that came off the heat shield, which we were not expecting,” Kshatriya said. “Now, this heat shield is an ablative material — it is supposed to char — but it’s not what we were expecting, with some pieces of that char to be liberated from the vehicle.”
Kshatriya also noted that NASA’s engineers will replace some of the life-support hardware inside the Artemis 2 Orion spacecraft due to failures that occurred during testing. This exhaustive process will require complete disassembling and accessing different systems within the capsule.
NASA Still Have a Lot of Work to do
Aside from the new systems and technologies NASA scientists are currently testing, NASA revealed that they have several tasks to accomplish for the success of future Artemis missions. For instance, the electric system that is part of the crew abort systems which will pull the capsule away from NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in situations like launch failure has not performed excellently as expected during testing.
“We’re still very early in that investigation. We have not yet developed a forward path; we have multiple parallel options to fix this issue,” Kshatriya said. “And we have a lot of testing to do in front of us, but we wanted to make sure we give ourselves the time to do that.”
Once NASA gets everything right, it will proceed to launch its Artemis 2 astronauts on a mission around the moon and back to Earth in September 2025. The astronauts that will be participating in this forthcoming mission include NASA astronaut commander Reid Wiseman, pilot Victor Glover (who will be the first person of color to leave low Earth orbit) and mission specialist Christina Koch (the first woman) — and also Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen (who will become the first non-American to leave LEO).
Though the recent announcement will adjust NASA’s Artemis mission timeline, its officials are still optimistic about the future of its crew on and around the moon.
“Artemis represents what we can accomplish as a country, as a global coalition,” Nelson said. “And what we can accomplish when we set our sights on what is hard. And what has never been done before.”
Hence, we should expect NASA’s Artemis astronauts to take the glory of humanity around the moon in September 2025 during Artemis 2 mission and on the moon during Artemis 3 in September 2026.