A NASA inspector is disturbed by the extensive damage to the lunar module’s heat shield

In November 2022, NASA launched the first unmanned orbiting mission, Artemis 1, launching the agency’s larger ambitions to return humans to the lunar surface.

The flight, which saw the Orion spacecraft launched aboard the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, went largely as planned, with the capsule orbiting the moon and back over the course of three weeks.

Unfortunately, the Orion capsule took hits during the flight, according to A Recent report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General, potentially jeopardizing the space agency’s upcoming crewed follow-on mission, dubbed Artemis II.

According to the report, engineers discovered widespread cracks in Orion’s heat shield in more than 100 locations. This is just one of six problems identified by the inspector general, suggesting that NASA has stopped its work before it can launch a four-person crew to the moon and back no later than September 2025.

“The Artemis I test flight revealed critical issues that needed to be addressed before the crew could be placed on an Artemis II mission,” the report said.

Things could have gone much worse during Artemis I. Broken fragments of the heat shield, shown in camera footage recorded by the capsule, “created a trail of debris instead of melting as designed.”

The authority added: “Although there was no evidence of collision with the crew module, the amount and size of the debris caused sufficient structural damage to cause one of Orion’s parachutes to malfunction.” “If the same problem occurs on future Artemis missions, it could result in the loss of the vehicle or crew.”

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“The team is currently compiling results from a variety of tests and analyzes that determine the main theory for why these problems occur,” NASA spokeswoman Rachel Kraft said. Tell Ars TechnicaHe added that an independent team will assess the situation, a process “scheduled to be completed this summer.”

Beyond problems with the heat shield, engineers also discovered “anomalies” in the spacecraft’s separation and power distribution screws.

Fortunately, NASA is “taking action to address these issues,” adding thermal protection to fill any gaps caused by melting and corrosion of materials and prevent the screws from overheating.

Engineers also reportedly addressed “persistent power distribution anomalies” likely caused by space radiation by “making software changes.”

Finally, the launch of the SLS rocket did a number on the launch pad, requiring repairs amounting to $26 million, five times the original budget allocated for this purpose.

In short, it remains to be seen whether the mission will actually take off in the second half of next year. Making any significant changes to the heat shield – already installed on Orion – at this point could significantly delay the launch.

NASA is also considering different re-entry paths to minimize damage upon the crew’s eventual return, including rotating the vehicle or performing a “skip” maneuver above Earth’s atmosphere.

Despite some major risks, NASA astronaut and Artemis 2 crew member Victor Glover isn’t fazed.

“We have a lot of people involved that we trust,” Glover said. Ars. “We have the right people. If there’s a solution, we’ll find it.”

More about the mission: NASA’s new Artemis II graphics are pretty cool, y’all

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