Artist's concept of a lunar lander.

Enlarge / Artist’s concept of a lunar lander. (credit: NASA)

On Tuesday morning, NASA conducted what appears to have been a highly successful test of the launch escape system for its Orion capsule—a piece of the hardware needed to safely fly humans to the Moon. This test, in concert with the looming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission, is likely to raise public interest in NASA’s new lunar landing program over the next month.

A little more than three months have passed since Vice President Mike Pence directed NASA to move up its plans to land humans on the Moon from 2028 to 2024, and a lot has happened. Here, then, is a reality check on the state of the 2024 Moon landing program—now named “Artemis,” after the twin sister of Apollo. This report is based on interviews with multiple sources inside and outside NASA.

Sense of urgency

Pence’s announcement has succeeded in shaking up NASA and injecting a sense of urgency into the agency. Consider the Orion vehicle tested Tuesday; NASA originally sought bids for the development of the deep-space capsule that would become Orion all the way back in March 2005. The agency awarded the contract to Lockheed Martin in 2006. NASA’s administrator at the time, Mike Griffin, said Orion could carry humans into space as early as 2010.

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