Elon Musk on Tuesday said his aerospace company SpaceX could help NASA produce spacesuits for its Artemis Moon mission after the US space agency's Inspector General reported that it was facing significant challenges, making the manned lunar landing impossible in 2024. Among the biggest challenges was the delay in the production of the first two flight-ready Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) spacesuits. The agency was scheduled to prepare these spacesuits by November 2024, but now NASA Office of Inspector General says that there's going to be a delay and the suits won't be ready for the flight until at least April 2025.
On Tuesday, CNBC's space reporter Michael Sheetz quoted from the Inspector General report titled, "NASA's Development Of Next-generation Spacesuits," saying, "NASA's Inspector General says delays in spacesuit development are another factor making a 2024 astronaut Moon landing impossible." He added that with $420 million (roughly Rs. 3,125 crores) spent and another $625 million (roughly Rs. 4,650 crores) expected, the spacesuits won't be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest.
Responding to Sheetz's tweet, Musk, himself a space enthusiast, wrote: "SpaceX could do it if need be."
NASA says in its report that these delays — attributed to funding shortfalls, COVID-19 impacts, and technical challenges — left no schedule margin for delivery of the two flight-ready spacesuits. Given the integration requirements, the suits won't be flight-ready until April 2025 at the earliest, says the report. Moreover, by the time two flight-ready xEMUs are available, NASA will have spent over $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,445 crores) on the development and assembly of its next-generation spacesuits, it further said.
Delay precludes 2024 Moon landing
In another section of the report, the Inspector General said that prior to 2019, NASA was expected to design, test, and develop the xEMU and provide flight-ready spacesuits to the ISS by 2023. Back then, NASA was expected to provide suits for Artemis III Mission by 2028, according to the report, but when the mission was accelerated to 2024, the space agency was also required to fast-track its work by the same time.
Not just that, NASA was supposed to provide these suits to its HLS Program for integration by March 31, 2023. That date now stands delayed by 20 months to November 2024 after the reduced funding for spacesuit development in FY 2021, COVID-19 impacts, and ongoing technical issues, the report said.
According to the information on its website, as part of the Artemis Mission, NASA will land the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon. It will also be using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever in the past.