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House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Hearing: Returning to the Moon: Keeping Artemis on Track”

U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology  

Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

“Returning to the Moon: Keeping Artemis on Track” 

 Wednesday, January 17, 2024 

Watch the Hearing 

Introduction

The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing entitled “Returning to the Moon: Keeping Artemis on Track” on Wednesday, January 17, 2024. This hearing followed NASA’s announcement on January 9 that the Artemis II and Artemis III missions have been delayed to September 2025 and September 2026, respectively. The purpose of the hearing was to monitor progress on Artemis objectives, identify and understand challenges faced by NASA, and discuss the agency’s path forward. Witness testimonies highlighted key challenges to the Artemis campaign, including delays in the development of the lunar lander, spacesuits, and supply chain management, and recommended actions to update the launch schedule, establish official cost and schedule estimates, and enhance transparency. More information.  

Key Highlights

  • Several witnesses expressed widespread skepticism about Artemis III being mission-ready by the adjusted launch date of September 2026. 
  • The witnesses recommended prioritizing astronaut safety, tackling technical challenges, implementing effective cost-saving strategies, and enhancing transparency. 
  • The witnesses highlighted that uncertainties in NASA’s budget from Congress pose difficulties for Artemis mission development and contractor recruitment. 
  • Chairman Lucas shared that the Committee would be considering NASA Authorization legislation and the Commercial Space Act during the upcoming spring session. 
  • The Committee shared that this hearing is one in a series tentatively scheduled for February and March to address issues and priorities related to low Earth orbit (LEO) and space science missions. 

Witnesses

  • Ms. Catherine Koerner, Associate Administrator, Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD), NASA 
  • Mr. William Russell, Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)  
  • Mr. George A. Scott, Acting Inspector General, NASA 
  • Dr. Michael D. Griffin, Co-President, LogiQ, Inc 

Opening Statements

Full Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK)

In his opening statement, Chairman Lucas underscored the Committee’s commitment to enhancing American leadership and competitiveness in space exploration, research, and technology. He noted that as part of this effort, the Committee will review NASA authorization legislation and the Commercial Space Act during the upcoming spring session. While Chairman Lucas expressed support for Artemis, he highlighted the recent delays in the schedules for Artemis II and Artemis III, stating the importance of ensuring that Artemis remains both timely and fiscally responsible without compromising safety. Read the Full Statement.  

Full Committee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Lofgren highlighted the bipartisan support for Artemis and the program’s economic impact, particularly in California. Despite recent mission delays, she expressed confidence in NASA’s prioritization of safety and emphasized the importance of understanding the causes behind the delays. Ranking Member Lofgren stressed the need for transparency regarding costs, realistic schedule assessments, and addressing technical challenges. In addition, Lofgren noted NASA’s management of various priorities, including LEO, the future of the International Space Station (ISS), and the climate crisis, alongside the ongoing Artemis program. Read the Full Statement.  

Subcommittee Ranking Member Eric Sorensen (D-IL) 

In his opening statement, Ranking Member Sorensen emphasized the global importance of promoting peaceful and sustainable lunar exploration through the Artemis program. While acknowledging delays in Artemis II and III missions, he voiced support for NASA’s dedication to prioritizing safety. Ranking Member Sorensen also emphasized that, as an authorizing Committee, they have the responsibility to ensure prudent investments and oversight concerning the program’s cost, challenges, budget, and risks. Read the Full Statement.  

Witness Testimony

Ms. Catherine Koerner, Associate Administrator, ESDMD, NASA 

In her testimony, Ms. Koerner emphasized the significance of NASA’s Artemis program, positioning the Moon as a stepping stone for future Mars exploration. She highlighted Artemis as a major human spaceflight initiative, fostering scientific research, establishing a sustainable lunar presence, and investing in commercial and global partnerships. She outlines the development of new space systems, the establishment of a Moon to Mars program office, and the annual Architecture Concept Reviews as tangible demonstrations of NASA’s commitment to ensuring the success of the Artemis missions. Read the Full Statement.  

Mr. William Russell, Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, GAO

In his testimony, Mr. Russell recognized NASA’s significant progress in demonstrating key capabilities for Artemis missions. However, he highlighted several challenges to the success of the Artemis missions, notably ambitious schedules, uncertain cost estimates for Artemis III, and ongoing issues in acquisition management. Russell recommended specific actions to address these challenges, including the establishment of official cost estimates to enhance budget decision-making and the implementation of effective acquisition management policies for critical commercial contracts. Read the Full Statement.  

Mr. George A. Scott, Acting Inspector General, NASA 

In his testimony Mr. Scott outlined several challenges confronting NASA’s Artemis Campaign in his testimony. He specifically emphasized technical issues impacting Artemis II, as well as expressed concerns about the development of SpaceX’s Human Landing System (HLS). In addition, he brought attention to the lack of transparency regarding cost and the significant expense of the campaign, projected at $93 billion, posing a risk to long-term sustainability. Mr. Scott proposed a series of recommendations, emphasizing the need to (1) address technical challenges for Artemis II, (2) identify and implement cost-saving measures, (3) ensure transparent cost and schedule estimates, and (4) develop a strategy for coordinating Artemis contributions from international partners. Read the Full Statement.  

Dr. Michael D. Griffin, Co-President, LogiQ, Inc 

In his testimony, Dr. Griffin emphasizes the need for strategic adjustments to NASA’s current plans for human lunar return under the Artemis Program. He raised concerns related to the unrealistically low fixed-price contract awarded to SpaceX and Blue Origin, questioning the program’s commitment to core national interest. Instead, Dr. Griffin proposes a two-launch solution for lunar landing that leverages existing technology, advocating for a government-led approach. He recommended terminating existing contracts and initiating a new program for a more feasible, lower-risk, and crew-safe lunar exploration starting in 2029. Dr. Griffin also underscores the geopolitical competition with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and potentially Russia, arguing for urgency to maintain U.S. leadership in space exploration. Full the Full Statement.  

Question & Answer

Budget & Appropriations 

  • In response to a question by Representative Yadira Caraveo (D-CO), Ms. Koerner asserted that maintaining consistency in budgets would enable NASA to adhere to the planned cadence of the Artemis missions. She explained that if NASA receives flat budgets, the agency will prioritize near-term missions, specifically Artemis II and III, potentially causing delays in other missions. 
  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Sorensen, Ms. Koerner stated that an extensive “lessons learned” process was conducted after Artemis I, providing valuable insights for the development of subsequent Artemis missions. She also noted that NASA contracts frequently involve “bulk buys” from contractors, aiming to lower overall costs, but makes the creation of a “per mission” cost challenging  

Artemis Mission Timeline 

  • In response to a question by Chairman Lucas, Ms. Koerner stated that the schedule for the Artemis missions was adjusted to account for crew safety, citing the performance of the heat shield on the Orion spacecraft. She stated that the adjusted schedule allows for sufficient time to investigate and address challenges stemming from the Artemis I launch. 
  • In response to a question by Chairman Lucas, Mr. Russell conveyed that the timeline between Artemis II and Artemis III poses a significant scheduling challenge, as one year is deemed insufficient between launches. Mr. Scott and Mr. Griffin reinforced that the Artemis III mission is not realistically scheduled in relation to the Artemis II launch.  
  • In response to a question by Chairman Frank Lucas, Ms. Koerner addressed contractor milestones, indicating that they are closely monitoring test demonstrations by contractors to uphold the Artemis timeline.  
  • In response to a question by Representative Bill Posey (R-FL), Ms. Koerner stated that the infrastructure at NASA space centers is aging. She noted that there have been over 70 launches from Florida’s Space Coast, and substantial investments have been made to support these launches. Additionally, she highlighted that NASA leadership has initiated an initiative called “NASA 2040” to thoroughly assess NASA’s infrastructure. 
  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Lofgren (D-CA), Ms. Koerner acknowledged the establishment of the NASA Moon to Mars office tasked with managing logistics related to the Moon to Mars strategy. Ms. Koerner also stated that, in the event of a delay with a technological component for a mission, NASA might execute a slightly modified version of a mission. 

NASA Commercial Partnerships 

  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Sorensen, Ms. Koerner stated that that the new space systems and technologies developed for the Artemis missions are not only stimulating but also creating entirely new industries and trades in the United States. 
  • In response to a question by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), Mr. Scott stated that while it is appropriate for NASA to collaborate with commercial partners, it is crucial to hold them accountable for delivering at the promised price. He also identified workforce issues and changing requirements as challenges for contractors. Additionally, Mr. Scott emphasized the importance of NASA being committed to making lifecycle cost and schedule commitments. 
  • In response to a question by Representative Summer Lee (D-PA), Ms. Koerner stated the Artemis missions serve as an “economic engine” stimulating activity in the space sector. She highlighted NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, noting that it will lower the entry barrier for new commercial providers. 
  • In response to a question by Chairman Lucas (R-OK), Ms. Koerner stated that consequences for contractors failing to meet set milestones depend on the contract mechanism. Potential penalties may include withholding or deferring payments, requiring reimbursement to the U.S. government, and the forfeiture of performance awards, serving as incentives for meeting mission timelines. 
  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Sorensen (D-IL), Dr. Griffin argued that industry possesses the capabilities to supply significant services for lunar missions, as long as the goal of the United States is to establish a continuous presence on the moon.   

International Actors 

  • In response to a question by Representative Posey (R-FL), Dr. Griffin asserted that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is seeking to establish preeminence in space. He argued that the United States should remain the global leader in outer space, stating that “standards are set by the people who show up.” 
  • In a response to a question by Representative Rich McCormick (R-GA), Dr. Griffin stated that the United States must establish itself as an actor that is capable of “do things in an efficient, expeditious, focused, determined way” to attract international partners. 
  • In response to a question by Chairman Lucas (R-OK), Ms. Koerner stated that negotiations with international partners for contributions to the Artemis missions are conducted on a value-to-value basis. The U.S. government creates a value assessment based on the contribution of the international partner and provides an opportunity or contribution with a similar value.  
  • In response to a question by Chairman Lucas (R-OK), Ms. Koerner stated that NASA has an export control process in place to monitor and manage interactions with international partners, to ensure the security of scientific information. 
  • In response to a question by Ranking Member Sorensen (D-IL), Ms. Koerner acknowledged the establishment of an internal annual review done by NASA that is extended to international partners to ensure alignment between NASA’s mission and its stakeholders. 

An archive of previous hearing coverage is available here.