Why NASA Took so Long to Launch Artemis Missions Back to the Moon
NASA just pushed a stunning, historic new rocket to the launch pad. Not only is the Space Launch System huge, taller than the Statue of Liberty. And it’s not just because it has the most powerful rocket stage in the world.
All of this power serves a great purpose: This rocket is designed to send astronauts to the moon for the first time in 50 years.
SLS will launch its first mission on Aug. 29, propelling its Orion spacecraft on a journey around the moon and back. It won’t carry astronauts this time, but if all goes well, NASA plans to land the boot on the lunar surface in 2025.
It will be the first time humans have set foot on the moon since December 1972, when astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt conducted the last moonwalk of the Apollo program.
“What’s important is that the plan is now successful. We’ve tried two other times — the administration has tried — and they’ve been stillborn,” Schmidt said in the Trump administration’s new moon landing schedule. told Insider in 2019 after accelerating to 2024. That target has been pushed back to 2025. )
Back in 2004, former President George Bush set the goal of returning astronauts to the moon. According to these plans, it should happen by 2020, possibly as early as 2015. Some delays are technical. The SLS is the cornerstone of the new Artemis moon landing program, which has taken 12 years and cost more than $20 billion—twice the original schedule and budget.
But according to astronauts and NASA administrators, the main reason it took so long to launch a new moon mission has nothing to do with science or technology. The biggest hurdle: a lack of budget and political will.
Back to the Moon is a hard sell in Washington
To fund NASA’s new moon landing program, Congress and the president had to provide money.
“Spaceflight is inherently risky, and spaceflight is difficult,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told Insider Tuesday when asked why it took so long to return to the moon. Before taking the helm of NASA in 2021, Nelson was a Florida senator and a longtime member of the Congressional Space Committee.
Nelson’s predecessor was more direct.
“The program took too long and cost too much money,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator under former President Donald Trump, told reporters in 2019.
“If it weren’t for political risk, we would be on the moon right now,” Bridenstine said, adding, “In fact, we might be on Mars.”
As a result, politicians have generally not allocated the funds NASA needs to return to the moon in the near future.
The lack of public interest didn’t help the problem. In 2018, a Pew Survey It was found that most Americans prioritize climate research, monitoring dangerous asteroids and basic space science over sending astronauts to the moon or Mars. While 72% of respondents said it was “essential” for the United States to maintain its world leadership in space exploration, only 13% said sending astronauts to the moon should be a “top priority.”Last year, a Morning consultation The survey yielded similar results.
“Human exploration is the most expensive space adventure and therefore the hardest to gain political support,” Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham said in a statement. 2015 Congressional Testimony.
The new president can whip NASA
It doesn’t help that the new president frequently changes NASA’s plans and goals. As a result, NASA could be subject to administrative penalties, ordered to drop certain programs or refocus on others every four to eight years. This makes it more difficult to commit to expensive projects that will take longer than one administration.
“Why would you believe any of the predictions the president says about what’s going to happen in the next two administrations?” former astronaut Chris Hadfield previously told Insider. “That’s just talk.”
In 2004, for example, the Bush administration tasked NASA with figuring out a way to replace the space shuttle that was about to retire and return to the moon. The agency came up with the Constellation program, which would send astronauts to the moon using a rocket called Ares and a spacecraft called Orion. NASA spent $9 billion over five years to design, build and test hardware for the human spaceflight program.
However, after President Barack Obama took office – the Government Accountability Office released a report on NASA Unable to estimate Cost of Constellation – Obama Push obsolete program Instead, sign the SLS rocket.
“Accelerating something ambitious is a real challenge, and it takes commitment and funding, and that’s what it takes,” Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart told Insider in 2019.
Money, money, money from Congress
At the end of the day, a lot of what NASA can and cannot do comes down to money.
“NASA’s share of the federal budget peaked at 4 percent in 1965,” Cunningham told Congress 2015. “For the past 40 years it has been below 1 per cent, and for the past 15 years it has been heading towards 0.4 per cent of the federal budget.”
Speaking of missions to Mars and returning to the moon, Cunningham said at the time, “NASA’s budget is too low to do everything we’ve discussed.”
However, this year, President Joe Biden ask Congress allocated a whopping $25.9 billion for NASA in 2023, including an increase from $6.8 billion to $7.5 billion for the Artemis program.
according to Ars Technicawhich means for the first time ever, the new moonshot program has enough money to meet its goals.