Artemis’ failure to launch
Science | NASA’s effort to put humans back on the moon falters
by John Dawson
Posted 1/21/21, 12:58 pm
NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the moon suffered a setback on Saturday when a rocket test at the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi ended prematurely. The failure marks the latest in a number of hiccups for the ambitious program.
Program officials planned to burn four new engines for eight minutes to simulate propelling NASA’s Space Launch System into orbit. But the rocket’s RS-25 engines burned for just 67.7 seconds before a major component failure in engine four triggered an automated shutdown, according to NASA.
While outgoing NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who resigned on Wednesday to make way for a new presidential administration, said the agency can learn from its mistake, Artemis’ goal of returning humans to the moon by 2024 seems to be a waning reality. The program has suffered from engineering failures and lack of funding.
“I think people will reassess the timeline for sure,” Eric Stallmer, executive vice president of Voyager Space Holdings and former Commercial Spaceflight Federation president, told Space.com in December before the test. “And, candidly, I don’t think anyone thought that 2024 timeline was realistic. It was ambitious and aspirational, but I don’t think realistic.”
President Donald Trump’s 2017 Space Policy Directive 1 reoriented NASA’s mission toward returning to the moon for the first time since 1972. By 2019, the administration publicly announced the Artemis program featuring the Space Launch System, NASA’s long-delayed heavy rocket designed to propel the next generation of spacecraft away from Earth.
But in July, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee budgeted less than $700 million for the Human Landing System, the research and design program to facilitate putting people back on the lunar surface. NASA had requested $3.3 billion.
In November, the agency discovered flaws in the Orion spacecraft, the crewed module designed by Lockheed Martin and Airbus to take astronauts to the moon. Troubleshooting the errors in Orion’s power and data systems jeopardizes the launch of the unmanned Artemis I mission scheduled for November 2021.