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It was always an ambitious goal to return American astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. Today, NASA admitted as much, pushing plans for its crewed Artemis Moon mission — the first human visit to Earth’s sole natural satellite since 1972 — until at least 2025.
In a conference call attended by CNBC and other media, the space agency said the later launch target owes to a variety of factors, including legal delays surrounding the privately-sourced Artemis lunar lander as well as the unforeseen onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Via CNBC’s report, the new timeline will still see the crewed Artemis II orbiting mission lift off — but not touch down on the Moon — in May of 2024, followed in 2025, at the earliest, by the crewed Artemis III lunar landing mission.
An initiative of the Trump administration, that landing is set to mark the first time a female astronaut will have set foot on the Moon. But getting there by 2024 is "not grounded in technical feasibility," according to NASA administrator Bill Nelson (via CNBC). Still, he reportedly added, NASA intends to "be as aggressive as we can be, in a safe and technically feasible way, to beat our competitors with boots on the Moon."
Late last year, NASA unveiled the 18-member astronaut lineup for its full Artemis team, which includes nine women (Kayla Barron, Christina Koch, Nicole Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, Jasmin Moghbeli, Kate Rubins, Jessica Watkins, and Stephanie Wilson). The agency will designate at a later time which of those astronauts will be aboard the four-person team that will set off for the Moon’s surface (with two of those crew members remaining in orbit) for the Artemis III landing mission.
Before either of the crewed Artemis missions take off, NASA must complete the program's first Artemis I milestone, sending an uncrewed mission into lunar orbit to test NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) super heavy-lift launch vehicle and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. That mission originally was planned to launch this year, but, via CNBC’s report, has now been delayed until the spring of 2022 at the earliest.