WALLOPS ISLAND, Va.—NASA may not land astronauts on the Moon by 2024 because two spacesuits won’t be ready on time and because losing bidders have protested the lunar lander contract, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday.
“The goal is 2024. We have just been held up for 100 days waiting for the protest” filed by Blue Origin and Dynetics to the Government Accountability Office over NASA’s decision to award the contract to SpaceX, Nelson said.. The protest had halted all work on the lander until GAO threw it out on July 30.
Even more critical than the legal delays, however, is a NASA inspector general report, released on Tuesday, that found the astronauts’ spacesuits won’t be ready on time.
“NASA’s current schedule is to produce the first two flight-ready xEMUs by November 2024, but the agency faces significant challenges in meeting this goal,” the NASA inspector general wrote, citing program delays, the impact of COVID, and cost overruns.
The next-generation spacesuits, known as Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units, have been years in the making, and “by the time two flight-ready xEMUs are available, NASA will have spent over a billion dollars on the development and assembly,” the IG wrote.
“Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible,” the inspector general wrote. “The suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest.”
Nelson did not immediately have a comment on the report.
The U.S. and China are vying to get to the moon and establish a moon base. The U.S. is looking at a site at the South Pole, “and we want to prove that ice is there,” NASA associate administrator Robert Cabana told reporters at Wallops, but no final site decision has been made.
Nelson said Blue Origin might delay the lunar lander work further with appeals.
“We are waiting as we speak to find out if there is going to be a further appeal to the Federal Court of Claims, which is like a federal district court, and then of course you can take appeals from there on to the United States Court of Appeals,” he said. “So there are a lot of blockades that have been put in front of us.”
In a statement to Defense One, Blue Origin said it is still evaluating its legal options.
“We firmly believe that the issues identified with NASA procurement process and its outcomes must be addressed to ensure competition and a safe return to the Moon for America,” a Blue Origin spokesperson said in an email. “We are currently evaluating our legal options.”
Nelson said NASA will seek to contract with more than one company for future moon missions.
As for the planned lunar-landing schedule?
“2024 is the goal. But space is hard, and now with all of the appeals and so forth,” Nelson said. “We’ll see.”