As the US and China compete to land humans on the moon, NASA’s 2024 deadline for another manned mission to the lunar surface looks increasingly doubtful due to a reliance on technology that has yet to be fully developed, the General Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report on Thursday.
“A fast-tracked schedule to meet this ambitious date – along with some technical risks – mean that it’s less likely a lunar landing will happen in 2024,” a GAO press release explaining the report said. “For example, most of the lunar projects are still early in development and some are relying on immature technology.”
NASA’s pace to develop a lander needed to shuttle astronauts between a spacecraft orbiting to Moon and the lunar surface relies on a schedule that is most likely overly ambitious, the release said.
The pace is “months faster” than other spaceflight programs and a lander is inherently more complex because it supports human spaceflight, the release added.
The report also questioned NASA’s plans for the Gateway, an orbiting space station intended to provide a base for multiple landings, because plans call for power and propulsion technology that has never been used. In addition, contractor efforts to develop the technology are behind schedule.
NASA has said it plans to bypass the Gateway for the initial landing of two astronauts on the Moon’s South Pole in 2024 and instead rely on a direct flight from Earth to lunar orbit followed by a descent to the surface in a lander – not unlike the earlier Apollo program.
Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, Chinese technical prowess demonstrated by landing a rover on Mars, plus an upcoming Russia-China announcement on cooperation in space, suggests that the United States could face competition in its bid to land two American astronauts on the Moon in 2024, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson had stated.
“You’re seeing statements made by the Chinese government that they don’t want to wait around until the 2030s to land on the moon with humans,” Nelson told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for space.
Nelson said China’s successful landing of a rover on Mars, the second nation to do so after the United States, had stimulated the Chinese space program. Nelson said such cooperation (between Russia and China) could challenge the supremacy of the US Space program, making it vital for NASA to be landing on the surface of the moon “before our competitors do.”