ASAP Worried About NASA Cutting Corners on Artemis Program to Meet 2024 Deadline

An astronaut descends the ladder to explore the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) met last week and reached the not-at-all surprising conclusion that NASA’s rush to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 and funding delays could get some of them killed, SpaceNews reports:

“The panel has an ongoing concern that with each continuing resolution comes directly related and significant budget challenges which, when combined with the direction to be on the moon by 2024, just increases the pressures to make engineering compromises in order to stay on schedule,” said Paul Hill, a member of the committee. “That pressure is only going to go up as launches in 2024 become closer.”

He noted that the issue was not something directly in NASA’s control, but instead was a “weakness of the current federal budgeting environment” that delays decisions on federal budgets. “It creates real risk for NASA” and its exploration programs, he said.

The ASAP meeting took place on the first day of fiscal year 2021, which, like most years in recent memory, started with a continuing resolution (CR). President Donald Trump signed a CR shortly after midnight Oct. 1 that maintains funding for the federal government at fiscal year 2020 levels through Dec. 11.

The CR keeps NASA’s funding at the FY 2020 levels until Congress and the president can agree on a budget. It limits NASA’s ability to start new programs and increase spending on existing ones.

NASA has requested $25.2 billion for the new fiscal year, including $3.2 billion for the development of the Human Landing System (SLS) that will take astronauts to the surface.

The House’s spending bill leaves NASA’s FY 2021 budget flat at $22.6 billion with $628.2 million for HLS. The Senate has not yet passed a budget for NASA. Senators were non-committal on providing NASA with its full budget request during recent hearings.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says the space agency needs the full amount by March at the latest to stay on schedule for a 2024 landing.