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18 Feb, 2021 19:27

NASA says Moon by 2024 ‘no longer realistic,’ but keeping Artemis program despite lack of funding

NASA says Moon by 2024 ‘no longer realistic,’ but keeping Artemis program despite lack of funding

Landing on the Moon by 2024 is no longer a realistic goal, the US space agency quietly admitted. While the Biden administration said it would keep the Trump-era Artemis program, there was no hint of Congress actually funding it.

“The 2024 lunar landing goal may no longer be a realistic target due to the last two years of appropriations, which did not provide enough funding to make 2024 achievable,” acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk told Ars Technica on Wednesday evening.

The agency was “reviewing the program for the most efficient path forward,” he added.

It was the first time a senior NASA official backed away from the date, the publication noted. The admission came quietly, on the eve of the much-publicized landing of the Mars 2020 mission, bringing a rover and a drone to the red planet.

Earlier this month, NASA also announced a delay in awarding the Human Landing System contracts for the Artemis program from late February to the second half of April, citing the need for more time to handle the “large and complex” procurement.

The delay might also be due to political considerations, however. There are three bidders for the HLS – Blue Origin, founded by Amazon and Washington Post magnate Jeff Bezos; Dynetics, owned by the military contractors Leidos and Lockheed Martin; and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Eleven Democrat senators wrote a letter earlier this month to the Biden administration, urging it to continue the Artemis program. Ars Technica noted they were mostly from states where Blue Origin has operations, and argued that dropping the moonshot would result in loss of jobs. Their letter did not acknowledge it was Congress that failed to adequately fund the program, however.

Neither did the White House press secretary Jen Psaki, when she told reporters on February 4 that the Biden administration will keep the Artemis program going.

“Lunar exploration has broad and bicameral support in Congress, most recently detailed in the FY2021 omnibus spending bill, and certainly we support this effort and endeavor,” she said, offering no details as to how.

This would make Artemis and the Space Force the rare Trump-era programs the Biden administration has not rushed to dismantle at the earliest opportunity.

President Donald Trump rolled out the moonshot program in 2019, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the original Moon landings. The program was named after Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo – the Greek god the first US moonshot was named after –  and was supposed to include a woman in the landing party. There have been no humans on the Moon since December 1972, when the Apollo 17 mission departed.

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