I wasn’t around for the Apollo program that took human beings to the Moon. I would have love to have seen it all unfold though. With NASAs Artemis program the opportunity will soon be with us again to watch humans set foot on another world, just not for the first time. Alas NASA announced on Tuesday that the Moon landings which form part of Artemis 3, have been pushed back one year to 2026.
The update from NASA came following a number of challenges to the Artemis project which aims to land humans back on the Moon including the first woman and the first person of colour. One of the key aims of Artemis is in preparation for the human exploration of Mars but in order for this to succeed, crew safety is of paramount importance. To that end the target to get the first crewed Artemis mission around the Moon is now September 2025 followed by a lunar landing in September 2026. Plans for the Lunar Gateway station remain unchanged and on track for 2028.
Artemis II is the first flight that will carry a crew and their safety is key. The mission will test the life support systems, environmental controls and other elements of the technology required to support human occupants. On the lead up to this land mark mission, NASA have unveiled issues (issues with battery, air ventiliation components and temperature control) that need extra time to resolve. In addition to these fixes, there was la oss of pieces of the heat shield protective layers during Artemis I. These issues must all be resolved before the crewed test flights can continue.
The changes to timeline for Artemis II have meant Artemis III needs to be realigned but also includes a chunk of contingecy to ensure any learnings from Artemis II can also be incorporated into Artemis III. As the program of work continues the complexity increases. Not only is the launcher new technology but the lander and spacesuits are all new too and with that comes more testing and refinements.
Quite how these schedule changes will impact the other elements is as yet, unknown but the teams at NASA are reviewing schedules of the Gatway elements that are currently planned for October 2025. In reviewing these streams of the project, NASA are keen to protect the schedule for the rest of the Artemis program.
NASA are working closely with their delivery partners to ensure all learnings are swiftly implemented and that they delivery on time to protect the timeline for its lunar and Mars exploration goals. If all goes to (revised) plan NASA will be able to explore more of the Moon than ever before and more importantly learn how to live and work there to support long term human exploration of the Solar System.