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NASA pushes back astronaut lunar landing goal to 2025

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NASA pushes back astronaut lunar landing goal to 2025
NASA's SLS rocket stands inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 9 (UPI) -- NASA has pushed back its goal to land people on the moon to no earlier than 2025, agency administrator Bill Nelson said in a press conference Tuesday.

Nelson blamed some of the delay on a lawsuit by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin rocket company, which a federal claims court judge dismissed Thursday.

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"We've lost nearly seven months in litigation and that likely has pushed the first human landing likely to no earlier than 2025," Nelson said.

Nelson said the Artemis I mission is nearing a launch by February, and the first crewed lunar mission, Artemis II -- which would not land on the moon, but orbit it -- also would slip backward by a year to 2024.

Either way, such missions would be the first return of human-rated America spacecraft to the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

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Nelson also took a dig at the Trump Administration's announcement in 2019 that NASA should return to the moon in just five years.

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"The Trump administration target of a 2024 human landing was not grounded in technical feasibility," he said.

Nelson and deputy administrator Pam Melroy, a former astronaut, cited the COVID-19 pandemic as an additional challenge for new moonshots.

"It hasn't been easy," Melroy said. "[NASA employees] have been logging overtime and doing double-duty in the middle of a pandemic. We recognize that extraordinary effort, and we're fully committed to the Artemis program."

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For the current budget, NASA requested $3.4 billion for lunar human spaceflight while Congress approved $850 million.

Besides lunar landers, NASA also needs updated spacesuits, said Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development. Cost projections for spacesuit development are approaching $1 billion over a period of years, according to a report from NASA's Office of the Inspector General.

"Landing humans on the Moon is a complex feat that requires integration of multiple components, including modern spacesuits," Free said, adding that NASA intends to make new spacesuit contract awards in 2022.

NASA had said it wants at least two finalists to build two unique landers for upcoming Artemis moon missions. But in April, the agency gave one contract to SpaceX, blaming the single award on a lack of congressional funding.

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Blue Origin, which also had bid on the contract, challenged NASA's decision in an administrative venue and in federal claims court.

Since the suit was dismissed, NASA has met with SpaceX about pushing ahead with the lunar plans, Nelson said.

"I spoke last Friday with Gwynne Shotwell, [president] of Space X, ... and we both underscored the importance of returning to the moon as quickly and safely as possible," Nelson said.

He added, "All these ambitious plans are contingent on funding" approvals from Congress.

Out-of-this-world images from space

This image, showing an X1.0 class solar flare flash in the center of the sun, was captured on October 28, 2021, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. It shows a blend of light from the 171 and 304 angstrom wavelengths. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground however, when intense enough, they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo

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