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NASA IG: Artemis manned lunar landing will likely not happen in ’25

IG's estimate of SLS's per launch cost

According to a new NASA inspector general report released today [pdf], because of numerous technical, budgetary, and management issues, the planned Artemis manned lunar landing now set for 2025 is likely to be delayed several years beyond that date. From the report’s summary:

NASA’s three initial Artemis missions, designed to culminate in a crewed lunar landing, face varying degrees of technical difficulties and delays heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic and weather events that will push launch schedules from months to years past the Agency’s current goals. With Artemis I mission elements now being integrated and tested at Kennedy Space Center, we estimate NASA will be ready to launch by summer 2022 rather than November 2021 as planned. Although Artemis II is scheduled to launch in late 2023, we project that it will be delayed until at least mid-2024 due to the mission’s reuse of Orion components from Artemis I. … Given the time needed to develop and fully test [SpaceX’s Starship lunar lander] and new spacesuits, we project NASA will exceed its current timetable for landing humans on the Moon in late 2024 by several years. [emphasis mine]

Gosh, it sure didn’t long for my prediction from last week — that the new target date of ’25 was garbage — to come true.

Today’s report also states that it does not expect the first test launch of SLS to occur in February ’22, as NASA presently predicts, but later, in the summer of ’22. It then notes that the next SLS launch, meant to be the first manned launch of SLS and Orion and presently scheduled for late ’23, will almost certainly be delayed to mid-’24. And that’s assuming all goes well on the first unmanned test flight.

While the report lauds SpaceX’s fast development pace, it also does not have strong confidence in SpaceX’s ability to get its Starship lunar lander ready on time, and believes that NASA could see its completion occurring from three to four years later than planned.

The report also confirms an August 2021 inspector general report about NASA’s failed program to develop lunar spacesuits, stating that its delays make a ’24 lunar landing impossible.

The report states that Gateway is well behind schedule, and will likely not be operational until ’26, at the earliest. While the present plan for that first manned lunar landing does not require Gateway, Gateway’s delays and cost overruns impact the overall program.

Finally, the report firmly states that the per launch cost of SLS is $4.1 billion, a price that will make any robust lunar exploration program utterly unsustainable.

Before the arrival of Trump, NASA’s original plan for SLS and Gateway called for a manned lunar landing in 2028. The Trump administration attempted to push NASA to get it done by ’24. This inspector general report suggests to me that this push effort was largely wasted, that NASA’s Artemis program will likely continue to have repeated delays, announced piecemeal in small chunks. This has been the public relations strategy of NASA throughout its entire SLS program. They announce a target date and then slowly over time delay it in small amounts to hide the fact that the real delay is many years.

Expect this same pattern with the manned lunar landing mission. They announce a delay of one year from ’24 to ’25. After a year they will then announce another delay to ’26. A year later another delay to ’27. And so forth.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Richard M

    “Although Congress mandated that NASA build the SLS and Orion for its space exploration goals in 2010, the Agency may soon have more affordable commercial options to carry humans to the Moon and beyond.”

    You don’t say?

    $4.1 billion per SLS launch. $4.1 billion! Even a Saturn V launch only cost $1.3 billion in 2020 dollars.

    I’d call it insane, but it clearly makes sense to someone in Washington, DC.

  • Matt in AZ

    At this rate, SpaceX astronauts will be walking on Mars before NASA’s Orion is ready to send theirs to the moon!

  • JhonB

    “””Matt in AZ SAID:

    “””At this rate, SpaceX astronauts will be walking on Mars before NASA’s Orion is ready to send theirs to the moon!”””

    Matt, SpaceX will be waiting to get environmental approval proving they will now kill wales in Alaska if they fill a rocket tank in Texas with fuel.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Elon: “Okay, effective immediately the US has a new manned space program named ‘SpaceX at bat’. Gwen Shotwell is the CEO, Jim Bridenstine is the President, and I am the Chief of Design and Operations. NASA should dump SLS and use the billions in savings to make sure JPL and other science leaders get whatever they need. If they tell us where it needs to go, we will carry it there, or they can use some half-assed outfit like Blue Origin if it doesn’t really matter when it gets there.”

  • George C

    Years before Apollo 11 I had a model of the full Saturn V stack and models of the LEM and the media had been telling the whole story as it would play out. Only Apollo 13 was a surprise. Am I missing something? I can’t find the plan.

  • MDN


    Aren’t the solid rocket motors for SLS hitting their warranted “Use By” date real soon? Has NASA announced a waiver to proceed anyway with this pending push in schedule? It seems to me they have really painted themselves into a box and will need to step on their putz yet again over this one way or the other.

  • MDN: You are right. If SLS doesn’t launch by March they have a serious problem.

  • Richard M

    Apparently NASA and Northrop did an engineering review that extended the 12-month certification limit on the SRB stacking. The last I heard, this would take it deep into spring. But I have not seen a hard deadline.

  • Apoapsis

    If SpaceX wanted to embarrass NASA and generate even more animus from congress I’d bet they could pretty easily put together a manned landing at a Lunar pole well before 2025. Musk is walking a bit of a knife edge, trying to maintain good relations with the bureaucracy while pushing so hard on the technology, where the tech embodied in Starship self evidently and very publicly makes SLS less than irrelevant.

    The current Artemis III is SLS throws Orion into orbit, it does it’s own TLI to a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous with starship HLS, lands using HLS, then pops back up to dock with the Orion and rides it back home, presumably leaving the HLS in lunar orbit.

    I’ve seen a suggestion of, gee, why not launch a Crew Dragon on a Falcon 9 to an Earth Orbit Rendezvous with HLS, transfer leaving the Dragon in Earth orbit, do TLI/lunar orbit/landing with crew in the roomy HLS, reverse back home to Earth orbit, dock with that Crew Dragon and reenter – and skip one entire $4.1b SLS/Orion launch.

    Plus that Dragon-EOR-HLS profile requires fewer NASA-man-rating-rituals (oh, sorry, is it human-rating now? Person-rating? Hominid-rating?) than the current Artemis III profile with it’s not-yet-man-rated Orion.

    So SLS and Orion don’t add any capability, only cost.

    And that completely leaves out of the calculus a manned full up re-usable Starship.

    So one can see why the integrated ruling bureaucracy might be wanting to slow SpaceX down a bit.

  • wayne

    Elon Musk / Akira the Don
    “Among The Stars” ?? (2018)

  • cloudy

    For Spacex’s lander to work, they have to achieve a regular and high launch cadence with Starship. Often it takes a long time after the first successful launch to achieve this. 2025 would be a pretty ambitious target even if it is assumed that all goes well with SLS/Orion.

    The main ace Elon has up his sleeve is this – he can take more risks. Every SLS flight HAS to succeed. Spacex can establish Starship’s reliability while launching Starlinks, and does not have to launch with people on board.

  • Jeff Wright

    Vulcan is the rocket Boeing wants to build. Musk has overpromised dates, so let’s shut that down and put folks out of work too? I’ll support the system that has an escape tower.

  • David M. Cook

    Robert you are correct, but despite all the glowing press releases NASA is leaving a track record that can‘t be ignored. Every single large program has been way over budget & late! NASA has no need to be careful with the public‘s money and folks now know this.

  • Cluebat

    I wouldn’t count on Musk to save us. They have already chased him out of California.

    He could reboot somewhere else and still beat the competition.

    I wouldn’t blame him one bit.

  • Neither the orbital Starship flight nor in-orbit refueling are done deals, yet. I like to think SpaceX will get it done, but that’s hope, not fact (yet).

    Given the Russian test (from after this post), having giant tanks of pressurized anything in orbit seems risky. Puncturing one will send it spinning into who knows what – and it’s not small. On the other hand, “unmanned” doesn’t mean “uncontrolled”. Perhaps thrusters could stabilize it. On the gripping hand, while it’s just waiting in orbit, it doesn’t need to be pressurized. IIRC, pressurization is done with some sort of bladder than inflates as the tank empties. Or does it? LOX will not stay liquid without pressure, will it?

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