NASA administrator Bill Nelson delivered some disappointing news this week. In a Tuesday discussion with agency leadership, he announced that the Artemis III mission won’t put humans on the Moon until at least 2025, a year delay from the 2024 goal set by the Trump Administration which Nelson said was not technically feasible.
The launch schedule was pushed back seven months due to a lawsuit filed by Blue Origin, in which Bezos’s company contested NASA’s decision to select SpaceX’s Starship as the lunar lander for the mission. A judge ruled against Blue Origin on November 4, effectively handing the contract to Elon.
Additionally, Nelson explained that further delays were caused by first-time development challenges, insufficient funds for the lunar lander competition, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, later Artemis missions and plans for the lunar surface remain unchanged. NASA continues on schedule with the development of Gateway, a lunar orbiting outpost that will provide critical infrastructure for operations and settlements on the Moon and Mars. In the long term, the agency envisions at least ten moon landings.
Funding has consistently been a sore spot for NASA. In addition to requesting more money for future lunar lander competitions Tuesday, Nelson announced that the development cost of the Orion spacecraft from fiscal year 2012 through the crewed test flight in 2024 is now 9.3 billion dollars. Orion will carry the next man and first woman to the Moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
NASA is also developing the Space Launch System, or SLS, which will serve as Orion’s launch vehicle for the Artemis Program. Once completed, it will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty, claiming its title as the most powerful rocket ever built by the agency. But NASA has struggled. Since unveiling its design in 2011, SLS has been haunted by delays and cost overruns. Best-case estimates put the first test flight in spring or summer of next year. That’s quite a difference from the 2016 date originally set for the rocket to be operational.
When Congress first debated the SLS legislation in 2010, Bill Nelson, who was then a Florida senator, balked at the Obama administration’s effort to let private company’s tackle the rocket, arguing that NASA and its traditional contractors could do the job better than anyone. “If we can’t do a rocket for $11.5 billion, we ought to close up shop,” he said at the time.
More than a decade later and several years past schedule, NASA has poured over 20 billion dollars into the program.
On a lighter note, Nelson threw a bone to the UFO community late last month when he speculated that multiple universes could exist, and suggested that our own universe’s size makes the existence of intelligent life outside Earth likely, adding that Navy pilots have reported over 300 UFO sightings since 2004.
Last week, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand turned Nelson’s thoughts into actions, introducing an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that would establish an office in the Pentagon to study UFOs, or UAP, the military’s new term for unidentified aerial phenomena. The Anomaly Surveillance and Resolution Office would standardize the collection, reporting and analysis of incidents involving UAP across the defense and intelligence communities, including adverse physiological effects.
UFO enthusiasts will have a lot to look forward to if the amendment is passed. The office would be required to submit unclassified reports about its findings, which, if they turn out to be anything like the Pentagon’s disappointing report on UAP last summer, may not provide definitive answers about the strange phenomena puzzling pilots around the world.