Published: Sat, May 13, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jose Becker

NASA drops idea of putting humans on first flight of new rocket

NASA drops idea of putting humans on first flight of new rocket

"NASA said Friday it will not crew the Orion spacecraft that will be launched in two years atop a super heavy Space Launch System (SLS) rocket due to associated risks and costs".

NASA appreciates the energy, creativity, and depth of engineering and program analysis that was brought to the decision, but ultimately, the decision was made not to fly crew on the first flight after weighing the data and assessing all implications.

The maiden launch of the Exploration Mission-1, or EM-1, has been scheduled for 2019.

The decision also confirmed that NASA expects the EM-1 date to slip into 2019.

Lastly, Lightfoot was asked directly whether President Trump had followed up on his remarks a few weeks ago that he wanted NASA to aim to send people to Mars before the end of his first or second term. However, a lot of technologies would have to be accelerated, such as a life support system to keep the crew alive and abort system that could save the crew in case of an emergency during flight.

We are keeping each part of the enterprise - Orion, SLS, and ground systems - moving at their best possible speed toward the first integrated test mission.

To include astronauts in the first launch, the Orion capsule would require life support and a fully working launch abort system, which is created to help the crew capsule escape a failure. Now it seems likely that EM-2 will be pushed past its 2021 launch date. The mission, called Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, is still planned to send an unmanned Orion spacecraft around the moon.

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"While it's ethically feasible", NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot told reporters, "[the feasibility study] really affirmed the baseline plan we had in place".

The second flight will have astronauts on board.

Apart from the tight development schedules, Mother Nature has also dented NASA's plans. The reasons for that delay include the delayed delivery of Orion's European Service Module, production issues related to building the first Core Stage of the SLS at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and tornado damage from February at Michoud. Earlier this month, as first reported by the blog NASA Watch, workers at Michoud accidentally damaged beyond fix a large dome that was to be part of a liquid oxygen fuel tank. NASA and Boeing are investigating the mishap, which was first reported May 10 by NASA Watch, a site that covers the agency.

In his statement, Lightfoot outlined the progress of SLS and Orion, which he described as "challenging but going well". Development of the Orion spacecraft - created to fly with the SLS on EM-1 - has also encountered technical issues that have delayed that program.

A 2018 budget "blueprint" from the Trump administration suggests a $19.1 billion NASA budget, including $3.7 billion for continued SLS and Orion development.

A crunch to make the Orion module astronaut-worthy on its first flight could also collide with other White House budget priorities, many of which will cost tens of billions of dollars: a wall on the Mexican border, an infrastructure-renewal plan, and a large increase in US military spending. The plan amounted to an overall cut of about 1 percent.

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