NASA’s proposed 2024 date to land humans on the moon has always felt extremely ambitious. Now, a new report from the NASA Office of Inspector General says the spacesuits NASA astronauts would need won’t be ready until April 2025 at the earliest. SpaceX founder Elon Musk suggested his company could step in to help.
The report, released Tuesday, points out delays in the development of the Artemis moon spacesuits due to funding shortfalls, COVID impacts and technical challenges. NASA had previously hyped up the suits — known as Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) — in 2019.
NASA OIG is tasked with oversight of NASA programs and operations. “Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible,” the report says.
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Musk responded to a tweet about the spacesuit delays from CNBC space reporter Michael Sheetz. “SpaceX could do it if need be,” Musk tweeted.
Sheetz pointed out there are 27 different companies supplying components for the suits. “Seems like too many cooks in the kitchen,” Musk said.
NASA has been willing to work with commercial providers on big space projects, from delivering astronauts and cargo to the ISS to delivering hardware to the moon. In July, NASA said it would embrace commercial partnerships “to optimize spacesuit technology and inspire pioneering in the space market,” so Musk’s SpaceX offer is within the realm of possibility.
Watch NASA unveil two new prototype spacesuits
NASA said it would continue to develop xEMU in-house in parallel with any procurement activity. The agency expects to release a formal request for spacesuit and spacewalk support services proposals later this year with the goal of making awards in early 2022.
The OIG report details some big numbers for xEMU development costs. NASA has already spent $420 million on the project with the initial goal of producing two flight-ready spacesuits by November 2024. The Inspector General suggests the price tag will balloon to over $1 billion by the time those suits are developed and assembled.
The Artemis program is a layered endeavor. NASA has been working on its SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft to carry astronauts back to our lunar neighbor. The rocket system has also seen its share of delays, though NASA officially hopes to launch an uncrewed around-the-moon Artemis I mission later this year.
It’s one thing to send a spacecraft to the moon, and another to safely deliver astronauts to the moon’s surface and then bring them back home. The new spacesuits, which are meant to greatly enhance astronaut mobility and comfort compared to Apollo-era suits, are a key component for human lunar exploration. No spacesuits, no moonwalks.
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