NASA’s Next Moon Mission Hindered by Heat Shield Problem

Nearly a year after an uncrewed Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, NASA anticipates it still needs a few more months to resolve a lingering issue with the capsule’s heat shield before a crew can ride on board.

During a recent meeting, NASA officials revealed that the space agency would not proceed with the launch of the Artemis 2 mission until it understood the problem with the heat shield and made changes, SpaceNews reported.

Following its landing, various components of the Orion spacecraft are being studied, including its heat shield. According to Jim Free, an official at NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, this study may take several months to complete. The space agency is considering replacing heat shield components or reverting hardware changes in order to address this issue, but the spacecraft is still being prepped for launch.

Scheduled for November 2024, the Artemis 2 mission will be unlike its predecessor, Artemis 1, as it will carry a crew on board. The Orion spacecraft’s heat shield is crucial to protecting the astronauts during reentry to Earth.

After the Artemis 1 mission, it was discovered that the heat shield did not perform as expected during reentry, enduring extreme temperatures and traveling at high speeds. NASA aims to obtain a “tentative root cause resolution” on the heat shield erosion by late next spring, according to Lakiesha Hawkins, from NASA’s Moon to Mars Program Office.

For now, NASA continues to work on the spacecraft’s hardware for Artemis 2, ensuring the mission stays on schedule. Although the impact of the heat shield on the launch date is uncertain, the crew has made it clear that they will not proceed until the heat shield issues are resolved.

Curious about humanity’s next giant leap in space? Explore our comprehensive coverage of NASA’s Artemis Moon program, the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, the recently concluded Artemis 1 mission around the Moon, the four-person Artemis 2 crew, NASA and Axiom’s Artemis Moon suit, and the upcoming lunar Gateway space station. For more spaceflight content, follow us on Twitter and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.


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