Artemis Moon Landing is NASA’s Top Challenge

Astronauts explore a crater at the lunar south pole. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Artemis program to land astronauts on the moon in 2024 — an effort that still lacks sufficient Congressional funding — is the space agency’s top management and performance challenge, according to a new report from the Office of Inspector General.

“Although NASA has made significant progress on several fronts to further its human exploration efforts, many questions remain about the total costs, schedule, and scope of the Agency’s Moon and Mars ambitions,” the report stated.

“In the near term for Artemis 1, the SLS (Space Launch System] Program will need to complete the Core Stage, integrate the rocket, and conduct a series of test fires; Orion will need to fully integrate with the Service Module; and EGS [Exploration Ground Systems] will need to complete development of launch software,” the document added. “For later missions, NASA will need to complete development of the SLS’s Exploration Upper Stage and the second Mobile Launcher.”

“Concurrently, plans for the lunar Gateway and crewed lunar landings will need to be finalized to meet NASA’s goal of landing on the Moon by 2024 while also preparing to reach Mars in the 2030s,” the report found.

Artist’s conception of Space Launch System in Vehicle Assembly Building (Credit: NASA)

The report noted that SLS, EGS and the Orion spacecraft needed to launch astronauts to the moon are already are all running many years later and billions of dollars over budget.

The first flight test of SLS and Orion — known as the Artemis I mission — is currently scheduled for November 2020. That flight, which will not have a crew aboard, could slip even further into the future, the report stated.

The Artemis 2 mission — which will send astronauts to orbit the moon — is scheduled for launch by 2023. That flight could be delayed if the Artemis 1 launch is delayed.

The IG found that NASA had implemented its previous recommendation to “establish more rigorous cost and schedule estimates for the SLS and EGS programs for the Artemis 2 mission mapped to available resources and future budget assumptions and independently reviewed by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.”

However, the report states the space agency has not implemented the following recommendations made by the IG:

  • Develop a corrective action plan for completing the two Core Stages and Exploration Upper Stage and brief that plan to Boeing and senior NASA officials to gain their approval;
  • Establish objectives, need-by dates for key systems, and phase transition mission dates for the Journey to Mars; and,
  • Include cost as a factor in NASA’s Journey to Mars feasibility studies when assessing various missions and systems.

The office’s ongoing and anticipated work includes audits of NASA’s management of the mobile launcher program, the space agency’s efforts to manage SLS program costs and contracts, and NASA’s progress on the Orion spacecraft.

“Additionally, within the next year we plan to review procurements for the Deep Space Gateway and other infrastructure needed for the lunar missions, management of the astronaut corps, launch systems for deep space exploration, and commercial lunar payload services,” the report stated.

NASA’s other top challenges listed in the report included:

  • improving management of major projects;
  • attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce;
  • sustaining a human presence in low Earth orbit;
  • improving oversight of contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements;
  • addressing long-standing IT governance and security concerns; and,
  • sustaining infrastructure and facilities.