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NASA Delays Moon Rover Mission to 2024 to 'Reduce Risk'

NASA will lay out more money for additional lunar lander testing.

This illustration shows what the Viper rover could look like on the moon.
NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

NASA is hot on putting both humans and machines back on the moon, but it's a long way from Earth to our lunar neighbor and getting there isn't easy. The space agency said on Monday that its much-anticipated Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or Viper, rover mission will be delayed by a year from November 2023 to November 2024.

Viper is a sturdy-looking wheeled vehicle designed to search for ice on the moon's South Pole. "The measurements returned by Viper will provide insight into the origin and distribution of water on the moon and help determine how the moon's resources could be harvested for future human space exploration," said NASA.

NASA contracted with space company Astrobotic to deliver Viper to the moon through the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, initiative. The delay, as NASA put it, is to "reduce risk" and give Astrobotic time to complete additional testing of the Griffin lunar lander that'll carry the rover to the surface. NASA is adding $67.8 million to the Astrobotics CLPS contract to cover the testing, bringing the total value up to $320.4 million.

Water is heavy and expensive to transport across space. Finding usable water resources on the moon is an important part of NASA's vision to have a sustainable human presence there. That's where Viper would come in, to help map the frigid South Pole and locate ice deposits.

When Viper and Griffin eventually launch, it'll be on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Delays are common for space missions, especially when dealing with new equipment like the lander. NASA's uncrewed Artemis I mission, a precursor to sending humans back to the moon, has also seen its share of delays and cost overruns. It's space business as usual, then, for the Viper mission.