How Space Weather Could Wreck NASA’s Return to the Moon

By Neel V. Patel.

Is NASA really going to return humans to the moon in 2024? That was the increasingly unlikely mandate issued to the agency by the Trump administration. President Biden hasn’t changed that goal yet, although most experts expect him to give NASA some much-needed breathing room and reset that deadline for later in the decade.

The problem is, 2024 might actually be a safer option. A new study published in the journal Solar Physics suggests there’s a heightened risk of space weather events—storms of radiation and supercharged solar particles—in the latter half of the decade. This would pose increased danger to any crewed missions to the moon between 2026 and 2029. If NASA is serious about getting back to the moon and wants to keep astronauts as safe as possible, it may be prudent to accelerate efforts to ensure that it happens before 2026—or wait till the decade is over.

“Space weather was certainly overlooked at the start of the space age, but it is being taken increasingly seriously, both in terms of terrestrial impacts and for space exploration,” says Matthew Owens, a space physicist from the University of Reading in the UK and the lead author of the new study.