NASA is likely to delay its ambitious plans to reach the moon by 2024 due to budget constraints and technical difficulties, according to an independent watchdog.
The US space agency had initially set the ambitious goal of returning humans to the moon’s surface by 2024. But in its latest evaluation of NASA’s plans, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) noted concerns over the project’s budget and timetable.
The panel concluded that unless NASA can quickly receive additional funding from Congress, there is a “high risk” of the deadline being pushed back beyond 2024. The report also noted significant technical risks, including issues with the engines and fuel systems of the Orion spacecraft, which is being developed to carry humans back and forth from the lunar surface.
The ASAP panel’s findings come as the Trump administration is pushing to create a new Space Force, which would further drain resources from NASA. The US has also threatened to end its diplomatic relationship with the International Space Station, which could place further constraints on NASA’s budget.
These budgetary issues have led some observers to question whether NASA will be able to reach the moon by 2024. Recent estimates place the total project cost to be as high as $30 billion, far more than what the agency currently has in its coffers.
Furthermore, the panel noted that contracts for the components necessary for the Orion spacecraft are not being made much in advance, which further raises the risk that the mission could face delays.
In order for NASA to meet its 2024 deadline, it will need to bring together a diverse and disparate group of partners, including international partners. Unfortunately, the current geopolitical environment means that this may be harder than ever before, in terms of getting other nations to agree.
Despite the challenges, the ASAP panel expressed confidence that the US space agency will ultimately achieve its goals, with the right amount of investment and attention to technical issues. However, the timeline for reaching the moon is far from certain, and it is very likely that NASA will end up having to delay its ambitious plans.
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