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Photo: NASA/JSC

Long-delayed NASA programs like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and Space Launch System (SLS) mega-rocket could threaten the space agency’s future missions, like the Artemis program to send people back to the Moon by 2024, according to an independent report released May 30.

Why it matters: NASA is asking Congress for an extra $1.6 billion above its original budget request for fiscal year 2020 to jumpstart Artemis.

  • However, according to the report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), NASA can’t afford more delays with the SLS if they want to meet the Trump administration's 2024 deadline.
  • NASA plans to use the SLS as a key part of its plans for the Moon, with multiple launches of the rocket expected ahead of a human landing.

Details: According to the GAO report citing NASA officials, it’s “unlikely” the SLS will see its first flight in 2020, as the space agency expects. That said, NASA is planning to use some of the extra funding requested for Artemis to continue developing and testing the SLS.

  • The GAO criticized NASA's continued cost overruns with the JWST, for example. That telescope is now expected to cost nearly $10 billion, $2 billion more than initially projected.
  • “I think the fact that Webb has been such a poison pill in the middle of NASA’s program still stands out,” Logsdon said. “Particularly NASA robotic science is paying a very high price for the problems with Webb.”

Yes, but: NASA “generally agreed” with the recommendations made, according to the GAO. However, history suggests the space agency may not implement them fully.

  • “We’ve had some very basic recommendations that we’ve been pushing for the past 10 years at least, and they can still be adopted more by NASA,” the GAO’s Cristina Chaplain said in a podcast about the report.
  • Those recommendations include being more "realistic" about the cost and schedules of large programs, being sure to update them along the way.
  • The GAO has also recommended that NASA be sure to include reserves in the human spaceflight systems programs to manage risk and potential cost overruns.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.