A senior NASA official suggested on Tuesday that the Artemis 3 mission, which is to be the first to put Americans on the moon again, could be turned into a “different mission” in the event of delays on certain key elements, including the SpaceX lander.
NASA’s Artemis program is made up of missions of increasing difficulty intended to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, in preparation for a trip to Mars.
The first mission, Artemis 1, has already sent a spacecraft around the Moon in 2022, and Artemis 2 will have to do the same, but this time with a crew on board, at the end of 2024.
Then, a year later, the Artemis 3 mission must this time land astronauts on the lunar surface, a first since 1972.
For this historic mission, billionaire Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, is responsible for building the lander that will land the astronauts on lunar soil.
But the machine is still far from being ready. The lander will be a version of the Starship spacecraft, whose test flight a few months ago ended in a huge explosion shortly after takeoff. The date of a new test flight is not yet known.
“For Artemis 3, we are still working with everyone on the contractual dates, which are December 2025,” said NASA associate administrator Jim Free at a press conference on Tuesday.
But “we could end up flying a different mission,” he added. “If we have these big delays, we wondered, can we do other missions, is there a possibility.”
He did not respond precisely to a journalist asking him if it would be a question of recirculating the Moon without landing there. Other missions of the Artemis program provide for the construction of Gateaway, a mini-space station in orbit around the Moon.
Mr. Free, who also pointed out Tuesday that another critical element of the mission, including the space suits, was also still in development, had already in the past worried about the difficulties encountered by SpaceX in the development of the Starship spacecraft.
He described Tuesday a recent visit to Texas, where SpaceX is developing the future lander.
NASA teams were able to “try to better understand their schedule”, he said, promising to give news on the subject once all the information “digested”.
“We don’t want a schedule with no margins whatsoever,” he said.