NASA faces a multitude of challenges as it moves toward a possible Artemis Program lunar landing in 2024. There’s the delay-prone Space Launch System (SLS), an incomplete SpaceX landing system, and the frequent budget shortfalls imposed by Congress. Now, there’s another obstacle in the way: spacesuits. NASA is designing a new generation of suits for Artemis, and a government report now says they won’t be ready until 2025 at the earliest.
According to the NASA Inspector General’s report (PDF), there’s little chance the current Artemis timeline remains in place. Initially, NASA planned to create two different next-gen suits, but in 2016, it opted to consolidate around a design known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). So far, xEMU development has cost NASA $420 million, and the agency believes it’ll take another $625 million to get the project done. However, even this level of funding won’t deliver the first two flight-ready suits until 2025, which makes the 2024 launch “not feasible,” according to the report.
The report doesn’t point the finger solely at the suit — it’s just another delay to add to the pile. The IG says lagging SLS development and possible delays in the SpaceX Starship lunar lander probably also preclude a 2024 mission.
The new spacesuit is not something NASA dreamed up when the previous administration imposed the 2024 deadline. It has been designing the next-gen suits for 14 years. They are much more robust than previous astronaut ensembles, able to keep the wearer alive in the vacuum of space thanks to redundant life support, better mobility, and a redesigned communication system.
The xEMU suits will be NASA’s first major design revision in 40 years, since the dawn of the Space Shuttle era. This is seen as a necessary advancement not only because the new suits will be more capable, but also because they will fit better. NASA faced controversy last year when it had to postpone the first all-female spacewalk because there weren’t enough suits on the ISS sized for women.
Of course, Elon Musk took the opportunity to offer his services. “SpaceX could do it if need be,” the SpaceX CEO tweeted. Considering how often NASA is looking to SpaceX lately, this wouldn’t even come as a shock.
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