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Earlier NASA planned to launch a lunar mission in 2024, but financial troubles appeared so the company made a decision to postpone it to 2025. However, The Verge writes that the date will move far beyond that. According to a new report the landing will take place several years after 2024. 

Such a prediction came from NASA’s Office of the Inspector General, which does periodic audits of the space agency’s various programs. They examined NASA’s Artemis program as well as the ambitious plan to send the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface.

The Artemis program was born while Trump was ruling the country. In 2019 ex-Vice President Mike Pence gave NASA a task to speed up and be ready to launch the Artemis program in five years. But Pence’s announcement was considered an incredible long shot. The Artemis program is a pile of different vehicles and technologies that work together as one complicated organism. To bring people safely to the moon and back NASA will use a massive rocket called the Space Launch System with a new crew capsule called Orion. Meanwhile, SpaceX is developing its next-generation spacecraft, called Starship, to carry people to and from the lunar surface for NASA — part of a $2.9 billion contract awarded to the company in April.

In real life the picture is not as optimistic. The rocket is still in very early stages of development and has yet to launch to orbit. SLS and Orion also haven’t been to space with a test flight yet. The OIG report, released Monday, highlights these issues and reveals just how much work is left to be done on Artemis, making a 2024 landing date unrealistic. “Given the time needed to develop and fully test the HLS and new spacesuits, we project NASA will exceed its current timetable for landing humans on the Moon in late 2024 by several years,” the report states.

Elon Musk, the SpaceX CEO continues spreading highly optimistic predictions that the Starship will be ready for the first major test launch late this year. However, the OIG report estimates the first orbital flight test of Starship will occur sometime in the second quarter of 2022.

The Artemis program will cost $93 billion for NASA

There are a bunch of tests that have to be done before SpaceX launches the rocket. Starship’s design relies on the vehicle being refueled while in orbit, in order to have enough propellant to reach the Moon. SpaceX still needs to test out that capability, something it has never done before, writes The Verge. Also the company should land the rocket first without astronauts aboard. All of these milestones, combined with many of the other programs that need to be finished, have the OIG estimating a lunar landing with people sometime in 2026 at the very earliest.

It’s not just Starship’s schedule that is off target. The OIG report predicts that the debut of NASA’s SLS rocket and Orion combo will also be delayed. Right now, NASA is working toward a launch as early as February 2022 — a mission called Artemis I that will send the rocket and capsule on a weekslong trip around the Moon without crew on board. However, the Inspector General anticipates that flight will be pushed to summer of 2022 instead. Such a delay would not be unheard of for SLS and Orion, which were originally supposed to fly together as early as 2017.

Perhaps the most shocking finding of the report is the substantial price tag for the major Artemis programs. The OIG estimates that NASA will spend $93 billion on Artemis between 2012 and 2025. And each flight of SLS with Orion on top will cost roughly $4.1 billion. That’s about twice as much as an estimate from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which claimed SLS would cost more than $2 billion to fly each time.

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