The first Nasa mission since 1972 to put humans on the Moon’s surface has been pushed back by one year to 2025.
Because of a funding shortfall and a lawsuit over the landing vehicle, few observers expected Nasa to meet the previous 2024 deadline.
However, in a press conference on Tuesday, NASA’s chief Bill Nelson confirmed the delay.
Nasa’s Artemis programme will send the first woman and the 13th man to the moon’s surface.
A US federal judge recently upheld the agency’s decision to award the contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build a lunar landing vehicle for this mission.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had challenged the decision, claiming that the contract should have gone to more than one company.
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According to a rationale published by Nasa at the time of the contract award, this was not possible due to a funding shortfall from Congress.
Mr Nelson blamed the lawsuit in part for the mission’s delay.
“The agency’s top priority is to return to the Moon as soon and safely as possible. However, given the recent lawsuit and other considerations, the first human landing under Artemis is unlikely to occur before 2025 “He stated.
However, commentators have been saying since last year that the lander’s cash situation made the previous date unworkable.
The decision last week means that a version of SpaceX’s Starship, which is currently being tested at a site in south-east Texas, will be used to transport people to the lunar surface on that mission.
The first mission in the Artemis programme is scheduled to launch in February of next year. Nasa will launch the Orion spacecraft unmanned on the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
During this mission, Orion will test its systems by flying around the Moon for three weeks.
Mr Nelson stated that the first flight with astronauts, Artemis-2, will take place in 2024.
Artemis-3 will be the first mission since Apollo 17 in 1972 to return to the Moon’s surface. It is planned to land at the lunar south pole, which is thought to contain vast amounts of water ice in craters that never see sunlight.
The ice in these craters could be used to produce rocket fuel, lowering the cost of lunar exploration.
The first person of colour will also land on the Moon as part of the programme, though it is unclear whether this will happen during Artemis-3 or a later mission.