NASA’s Office of Inspector General has concluded in a report that a US moon mission in 2024 is “unfeasible” due to a tight schedule for the new spacesuits and expected delays.
The report concludes that a flight-worthy spacesuit is still “years away from completion.” NASA says it expects more than a billion dollars to be spent before two spacesuits are ready for use. To date, $420 million has already been spent. This so-called xEVA Project to develop the new suits has faced budget constraints, among other things. There are also ongoing difficulties and delays due to the pandemic, the full impact of which is not yet clear. NASA therefore speaks of ‘expected delays’ in the development of the spacesuits and states that the end of 2024 will not be feasible. April 2025 is cited as the most optimistic scenario; sooner, according to the space agency, the suits will not be ready.
The US space agency emphasizes that these problems with the spacesuits are not the only hurdles in the road to a return to the moon in 2024. For example, NASA points out that previous studies have shown significant delays in other major, critical moon landing programs. This concerns, for example, the Space Launch System, the new, heavy and very expensive rocket that will be deployed. There are also concerns about the development and timetable of the Orion capsule that will accommodate the astronauts. NASA also notes that protests have been filed against the award of the contract for the lander. That contract went to SpaceX. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin had protested that. Those objections were recently rejected, but according to NASA this also has consequences for the schedule to make a landing in 2024 possible.
Today’s spacesuits, which can be used for spacewalks in the vacuum of space, were developed some 45 years ago for NASA’s Space Shuttle program. A new so-called EVA suit for extravehicular activity is therefore not an unnecessary luxury. Elon Musk has joined the discussion with a short note that his company SpaceX could do it too. However, he gave no further explanation. SpaceX will also have to come up with such a suit for its intended Mars mission, but that mission is still a lot further away than NASA’s planned moon mission. SpaceX has already developed its own suits for astronauts who sit in the Crew Dragon to get to the ISS, but those are not EVA suits.
The orange colored Orion Crew Survival System suit for the Orion capsule and next to it a prototype of what will be the new spacesuit. This demonstration took place in October 2019.