Lockheed Martin’s Orion spacecraft is one tangible step closer to taking people back to the Moon. The aerospace giant has completed assembly and testing of the Orion ship, and has transferred it to NASA ahead of the Artemis I test mission later in 2021. At this point, it’s just a matter of final prep work that includes loading propellants, integrating the launch abort system, and mounting the ship atop the SLS rocket.
Artemis I is an uncrewed mission. Orion will orbit the Moon to help verify both its own systems as well as those of the SLS and ground teams ahead of Artemis II, the first mission with astronauts aboard. It’s not until Artemis III that people will return to the lunar surface.
While this is an important moment, it comes as questions are surfacing about the Artemis program’s future. The latest budget from Congress already falls short of the funding needed for a 2024 Moon landing, and the incoming Biden administration isn’t likely to prioritize Artemis when the pandemic response and economic recovery will take center stage. Artemis I is likely to move forward — just don’t be surprised if Orion doesn’t get much use for a while after that.