NASA has released a new audit casting doubt on the agency's initial lunar landing timeline, which aimed to return humans to the moon by 2024, according to a release from the agency.
"[D]elays related to lunar lander development and the recently decided lander contract award bid protests will also preclude a 2024 landing," read the audit. But Elon Musk was quick to reply to NASA's release, tweeting that SpaceX could pick up the slack on Moonwalk-ready spacesuit development, if needed.
In case you missed it, NASA just said that adjudicating the dispute of its lunar landing contract with companies like Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin may have played a role in delaying humanity's return to the moon.
NASA's next-gen suits will not be ready until April 2025
NASA initially aimed to produce the first two next-gen flight-worthy spacesuits, called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units (xEMUs) by 2024, but the agency has weathered mounting challenges in making this deadline. Delays included a roughly 20-month push-back in delivery for the planned design, verification, and testing suit, in addition to an ISS Demo suit, two qualification suits, and another pair of lunar flight suits. "These delays — attributable to funding shortfalls, COVID-19 impacts, and technical challenges — have left no schedule margin for delivery of the two flight-ready xEMUs," read the NASA audit. "Given the integration requirements, the suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest".
NASA's audit also said that it had no active contingency plans as of June of this year, and warned that continued delays to major sections of the Space Launch System and HLS would "also preclude a 2024 lunar landing." But a recent reply from CEO SpaceX Elon Musk may suggest his company could become NASA's contingency plan, should the agency accept his soft proposal. "SpaceX could do it if need be," tweeted the tech billionaire, with reference to building out the spacesuits needed to put NASA back on track, or at least minimize the delay in returning humans to the surface of the moon.
SpaceX could do it if need be— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 10, 2021
NASA needs to replace spacesuits on the ISS
While NASA's next-gen spacesuit designs are in several different phases of development, the agency said any design must support the Artemis missions, SpaceX's Human Landing System (HLS), in addition to ISS missions, the Orion capsule, and the forthcoming Lunar Gateway. Because of the mid-design state of the spacesuit designs, the xEVA system will suffer increased cost, performance, schedule, and safety risks.
"At the same time, NASA is struggling with competing HLS and ISS schedules as the HLS Program needs the xEMUs for the 2024 moon landing, but the ISS Program needs the suits to replace the 45-year-old EMUs currently in use on the station," added NASA in its audit. While the path to the moon for NASA and its associates remains up in the air, one thing is for certain: without next-gen spacesuits, the continued use of rapidly-aging spacesuits on the ISS will incur expensive maintenance, in addition to mounting safety risks to astronauts. To put it bluntly, NASA's future space missions have hit a snag in development, and without help or extra funding, private aerospace companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX may be necessary to prevent extensive delays.
This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.