NASA displays a ground prototype of the new Artemis lunar spacesuit during a demonstration in October 2019 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA | License Photo
ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Delays and cost overruns developing new spacesuits could derail NASA's planned return to the moon by 2024, the space agency's official watchdog said in a report Tuesday.
Cost projections for the spacesuit development are approaching $1 billion, according to the report from NASA's Office of the Inspector General. It attributed delays to the coronavirus pandemic, technical challenges and shortfalls in congressional funding.
"Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible," the OIG said in the report.
It recommended that the space agency reorganize its schedule and its anticipated contract award to the private sector to build the spacesuits.
The delays have prompted NASA personnel who plan for spacewalks to be "concerned there will not be sufficient quantities of training hardware available" to prepare for lunar missions by 2024, the report said.
Another problem identified in the report is that NASA's current approach to spacesuit development allows companies to propose their own designs.
That approach "could result in industry developing (and NASA purchasing) two different spacesuits--one for use ... on the ISS and another for use on the lunar surface," the report said.
"Given the space station's limited expected lifespan, developing a suit solely for the ISS may not prove cost effective."
NASA has no long-term budget for the spacesuit development because the agency deals with annual congressional funding, while development of new technology requires some flexibility in funding as priorities and innovation change over the years.
The OIG noted that its previous report on the spacesuit program in 2017 had chastised NASA for being "years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit to use on exploration missions" despite having spent $200 million.
"Since our 2017 report, NASA has spent an additional $220 million-for a total of $420 million," the report said.
In response to the release of the report, SpaceX's Elon Musk tweeted Tuesday morning, "SpaceX could do it if need be." His company has the only contract to build a lunar lander for the Artemis program at nearly $3 billion.
NASA has kept a 2024 moon landing on its schedule, even though officials at the agency have said such a date is unlikely because Congress has funded the program at a fraction of the agency's budget requests.
NASA said response to the OIG that the space agency agreed with the report's recommendations, particularly to ensure the spacesuits are tested in space before they are used on the moon.
"Demonstration and testing ... on [the International Space Station] are a priority," Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration, wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.
Moghbeli poses for a portrait in the Systems Engineering Simulator for the International Space Station and advanced spaceflight programs at the Johnson Space Center on July 9, 2019. She will train for the moon mission. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA