NASA pushed back its schedule for landing astronauts on the Moon by a year to 2025, due in part to a protest over the single-source contract awarded to SpaceX to build a lunar lander, Administrator Bill Nelson said on Tuesday.
"We've lost nearly 7 months in litigation and that likely has pushed the first human landing likely to no earlier than 2025," Nelson said in a televised press conference.
Nelson was referring to a court decision last week rejecting a protest by SpaceX rival Blue Origin over loss of the lunar lander contract.
Another reason for the delay is that the original 2024 deadline set by the Trump administration "was not grounded in technical feasibility," Nelson said.
Nelson also cited Congress' failure to provide adequate funding to develop a lunar lander in previous budgets.
NASA's new schedule calls for humans to orbit the Moon in May 2021 in an elongated path that will jettison the crew 40,000 miles beyond the Moon - a record distance into space - before returning to Earth, Nelson said.
In addition, an uncrewed lunar landing will take place before the 2025 human mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the lunar South Pole.
Although the updated schedule does not affect later US lunar missions, Nelson warned that the US finds itself in a race with China to return humans on the Moon for the first time since the final US Apollo landing in December 1972.
"The Chinese space program is increasingly capable of landing Chinese taikonauts much earlier than originally expected," Nelson said.
"But whatever, we are going to be as aggressive as we can be in a safe and technically feasible way to beat our competitors with boots on the moon."
The first Apollo landing on the Moon in July 1969 ended an earlier space race that pitted the United States against the former Soviet Union.
(With inputs from ANI)