“We lost almost seven months in litigation and that has led to the first human moon landing probably not before 2025,” Nelson said by phone.
“The good news is that NASA is making solid progress,” Nelson noted, citing the fact that the Orion mission crew capsule has now docked atop the massive Space Launch System rocket at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. .
NASA is targeting a first unmanned mission, Artemis 1, in February 2022, and Artemis 2, the first manned mission to fly over the Moon in 2024.
Separately, SpaceX needs to complete an unmanned landing to test the lunar version of its Starship rocket, before the same vehicle is used for the crewed landing.
Nelson revealed that NASA was committed to a total development cost for Orion of $ 9.3 billion, spanning the period between 2012 and 2024, up from the previous estimate of $ 6.7 billion.
If anything, Nelson warned that more funds from Congress would be required to meet the new deadlines, adding that “the Chinese space program is increasingly capable of landing taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) much earlier than originally expected.”
“We are facing a very aggressive and good Chinese space program,” he added. “It is the position of NASA, and I think of the United States government, that we want to be there first on the Moon after half a century.”
China, the world’s second-largest economy, has invested billions of dollars in its military-led space program, hoping to have a permanently manned space station by 2022. It has already sent rovers to the Moon, including the dark side, and points to a first manned lunar mission by 2029.
Humans last landed on the Moon in 1972 on the Apollo 17 mission. NASA says the Artemis program will include the first woman and the first black person to set foot on the surface of Earth’s natural satellite.
The agency wants to build a sustained habitat on the Moon and use the lessons learned from long expeditions there to develop a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s.