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

NASA Orion Space Craft launching

Flight hardware for SLS and Orion is now in production for both the first and second missions.

At the request of the White House in February, NASA began studying the possibility of putting astronauts on the first flight of a new megarocket.

Even without a crew, the SLS will not be ready to blast off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida until 2019, Lightfoot said, adding that the agency would have a more specific timeframe in about a month. The Space Launch System is the largest rocket in NASA history, similar in size to the Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program but offering far more thrust.

WESH 2 Space Expert Dan Billow brought us all the details from Cape Canaveral. We will continue to work with Congress as we move toward a crewed flight test on EM-2 and, right now, we are very focused on accomplishing the EM-1 flight test.

NASA determined it is technically capable of launching crew on EM-1, but after evaluating cost, risk and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it would be hard to accommodate changes needed to add crew at this point in mission planning.

As a result, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said agency managers and White House officials agreed it made more sense to stick with the original plan, launching an uncrewed Orion capsule atop the first SLS booster in 2019, followed by a piloted mission using an upgraded version of the rocket two years later.




By the end of the next fiscal year on September 30, 2018, Nasa will have spent US$23 billion on the rocket, capsule, launch site and support systems, according to an audit by Nasa's Office of Inspector General. A follow-up flight with crew inside Orion is tentatively scheduled for no earlier than 2021, but will probably be pushed back as well. However, "we decided that while it was technically feasible, we decided that the baseline plan we had in place was the best plan", he continued.

SpaceX tested its rocket in a ground firing earlier this week. He continued to say that by not having a crew on EM-1, NASA will be able to push the Orion spacecraft and propulsion systems harder and longer, targeting a mission of between 21 and 25 days.

"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.

The program has also had to contend with welding glitches on the SLS and a May 3 incident in which the dome of a liquid oxygen tank on the core stage was severely damaged during the manufacturing of test hardware.

NASA has been struggling with delays and development problems on both Orion and the behemoth SLS, initially scheduled to fly previous year. "This is an "and" proposition, this is not an 'or, '" Lightfoot said.

In his statement, Lightfoot outlined the progress of SLS and Orion, which he described as "challenging but going well". It is created to be a flight test of our entire system - one that is challenging in itself and will offer the opportunity to better understand our capabilities and limitations.

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