NASA won't put astronauts on first flight of new rocket

13 May, 2017, 10:23 | Author: Sam Montgomery
  • NASA's Orion Spacecraft before launch

"Well, we want to try to do it during my first term or at worst during my second term so we will have to speed that up a little bit ok?"

"After evaluating cost, risk, and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it is hard to accommodate changes needed for a crewed EM-1 mission at this time", NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, sent in an email to agency employees that was obtained by The Verge.

Still in development, the super-sized Space Launch System rocket is meant to eventually send astronauts to Mars.

WESH 2 Space Expert Dan Billow brought us all the details from Cape Canaveral. Even then, that flight, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will slip from November 2018 to sometime in 2019, with cascading effects for the next flight, EM-2.

The lunar flyby for astronauts was "technically feasible", he said, but the crewed launch study made it clear, "we have to move that launch date to 2019".

"As a result of these factors, NASA will adjust the target launch date for the EM-1 mission to 2019, and will execute its normal process in the coming weeks to determine an official revised launch date", it said.

"Probably the best plan we have is the plan we're on right now", said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Directorate.

Currently, EM-2 was scheduled to take place in 2021.

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Rockets in the early years of space flight were unreliable in test phases and sometimes blew up on the pad or shortly after liftoff.

"Any time you are trying to rapidly add capabilities, you are asking for trouble in a system like this", said Casey Dreier, director of space policy at The Planetary Society, which lobbies for greater funding of space science and exploration. Lightfoot found the original commission of the feasibility study "typical of what a lot of new administrations do when they come in". A February tornado damaged a New Orleans facility where the rocket is assembled, and a construction accident last week irreparably damaged an oxygen tank intended for the EM-1 rocket.

The private spaceflight companies SpaceX and Boeing, for example, both hope to begin launching astronauts to the International Space Station in the next couple years under a contract with NASA.

The megarocket represents a robust foundation for ultimately moving human presence out into the solar system, Gerstenmaier said.

In addition, the pair tried to explain why SLS and Orion have been plagued by delays for almost the entire decade.

"They have asked us to look at the plan we have got today and see if we can keep going on that plan", he answered.

In the recent budget compromise to fund the government until October, Congress allocated NASA about $19.7 billion.

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 USA military spending.

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