NASA chief Bill Nelson optimistic about Artemis moon landing goals amid big delays

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson addresses the crowd Aug. 24, 2021 at the 36th annual Space Symposium.   (Image credit: Space Foundation)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — NASA has no plans of backing down from its moon landing goal despite recent obstacles, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today (Aug. 24) at the 36th annual Space Symposium.

Recently, NASA's Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon's surface by 2024, found itself with even more stumbling blocks with added delays and challenges with its moon lander and spacesuits. However, despite new and continuing obstacles, Nelson is pushing full steam ahead to the moon, he said today at the Space Symposium. 

"Our human landing system demo award has been held up by delays and by litigation. The spacesuits, which, for the first time, were built by our commercial partners, have been technically challenging. And COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruptions in the supply chain," Nelson said. 

"But remember back to what [President John F.] Kennedy said," Nelson added, referencing Kennedy's 1962 speech at Rice University in which he announced, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." 

"We can do hard things," Nelson said. "We are a can-do people."

Related: U.S. astronaut moon landing 'not feasible,' by 2024 

Recently, NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found, after an extensive investigative audit, that the agency will not meet its goal to produce its next-generation spacesuits, called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) in time to land humans on the moon by 2024, an ambitious goal that the previous U.S. presidential administration set for NASA set as part the Artemis program.

"NASA's current schedule is to produce the first two flight-ready xEMUs by November 2024, but the agency faces significant challenges in meeting this goal," the audit read. The audit added that, with expected delays in spacesuit development, "a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible."

After the audit, NASA voluntarily halted all work on its new moon lander, the Human Landing System (HLS), as the agency faces a federal lawsuit from Blue Origin

Blue Origin's lawsuit comes after the company, along with fellow space company Dynetics, filed protests with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that alleged issues with NASA's decision to go only with SpaceX for its HLS moon lander contract. 

Many expected NASA to choose two of the three companies for the contract. However, the protests were denied as alleged wrongdoings surrounding NASA's decision were disproven. 

Following the protests and an open letter to Nelson from Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin decided to file a federal lawsuit against the agency for its decision. 

So, with the lawsuit now causing NASA to halt SpaceX from working on its moon lander, the agency has one more major obstacle in its way to meet its 2024 goal.

Additionally, these hefty roadblocks have been multiplied by, as Nelson noted, supply delays caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

But Nelson shared his optimism that NASA can meet these challenges and it's lofty lunar goals. 

"We're presented with the opportunity to lead upon the challenges we face that, as a nation, as members of a global society," Nelson said. "For America to lead in space and, in turn, to continue to lead here on Earth, it will take all of us working together. 

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.