Related Topics

  • Artemis

Image source, NASAImage caption, SpaceX's Starship will land humans on the Moon for the first time since 1972

The first Nasa mission since 1972 to put humans on the Moon's surface has been pushed back by one year to 2025.

Few observers expected Nasa to make the previous 2024 date, because of a funding shortfall and a lawsuit over the landing vehicle.

But the space agency's chief Bill Nelson confirmed the delay in a press conference on Tuesday.

Under its Artemis programme, Nasa will send the first woman and the 13th man to the lunar surface.

A US federal judge recently upheld a decision by the agency to award the contract to build a lunar landing vehicle for this mission to Elon Musk's company SpaceX.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had contested the decision, in part because he said the contract should have been awarded to more than one company.

  • Nasa's Moon ship ready to be attached to rocket
  • Artemis: To the Moon and Beyond
  • Nasa's Orion spacecraft: A guide
  • Nasa chooses SpaceX to build Moon lander

However, a funding shortfall from Congress meant this wasn't possible, according to a rationale published by Nasa at the time of the contract award.

Image source, NASAImage caption, Artwork: Nasa wants to return to the Moon this decade, but this time it wants to stay

Mr Nelson partially blamed the mission's delay on the lawsuit.

"Returning to the Moon as quickly and safely as possible is an agency priority. However, with the recent lawsuit and other factors, the first human landing under Artemis is likely no earlier than 2025," he said.

However, commentators had been saying since last year that the lander cash problem made the previous date untenable.

The judgment last week means that a version of SpaceX's Starship – currently undergoing testing at a site in south-east Texas – will be the vehicle used to carry people down to the lunar surface on that mission.

The first mission under the Artemis programme is set to fly in February next year. Nasa will launch the Orion spacecraft on the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket without people aboard.

Image source, NASAImage caption, Artemis missions will launch atop Nasa's giant SLS rocket

During this mission, Orion will fly around the Moon on a voyage lasting three weeks in order to test its systems.

The first flight with astronauts – Artemis-2 – will follow in 2024, Mr Nelson said.

Artemis-3 will be the first mission to return to the surface of the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. It is set to land at the lunar south pole, which is thought to hold vast stores of water-ice in craters that never see sunlight.

The ice in these craters could be used to make rocket fuel, bringing down the cost of lunar exploration.

The programme will also see the first person of colour land on the Moon, thought it is unclear whether this will happen during Artemis-3 or a later mission.

Follow Paul on Twitter.