NASA nixes crew for test flight of new megarocket in 2019

Buzz Aldrin says NASA Should Ditch The Intentional Space Station

Buzz Aldrin says NASA Should Ditch The Intentional Space Station

The first test flight of NASA's Orion capsule, created to one day carry people to Mars, has been delayed until 2019 at the earliest due to high costs, the USA space agency said Friday.

In February at the request of the White House, NASA began studying the feasibility of putting astronauts on the first flight.

Going without crew in that first test flight has been NASA's plan all along. It would also allow for an earlier launch date.

SLS is being developed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and major components are being built by contractors at the Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans under Marshall's management.

An artist's concept of a NASA Orion spacecraft being attached to its Space Launch System megarocket.

NASA did not say if the second test mission, known as EM-2, which will carry crew beyond the moon, will be affected.

The spacecraft which has been created to eventually send astronauts to Mars represents a robust foundation for ultimately moving human presence out into the solar system but, NASA's Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said his space agency concluded - alongside White House officials - that their initial "baseline plan was best", which would mean "leaving [the rocket] EM-1 unmanned".

The announcement came during a teleconference with NASA's Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and head of Human Exploration Bill Gerstenmaier.

And so, NASA will stick with plans to launch a "Block 1" SLS rocket in 2019 to boost an unpiloted Orion capsule on a three-week flight beyond the moon and back to a high-speed re-entry and ocean splashdown.

"At the end of the day, we found it technically feasible to fly a crew on EM-1 as long as we had a commitment of additional resources and schedule, and recognizing the technical risks we identified still were going to need a mitigation plan", Lightfoot told reporters Friday. 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.

William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator of NASA's Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, explained that turning EM-1 into a crewed mission would have required about $600 million to $900 million. He said the exact date of EM-2 might not be announced until after EM-1. Life support and related technologies are being tested aboard the International Space Station now, and deep space habitation and propulsion system development activities also are underway. We're building a flexible, reusable and sustainable capability and infrastructure that will last multiple decades and support missions of increasing complexity.

Earlier this year, SpaceX announced a bold mission to send two paying passengers on a flight around the moon in 2018.

Lightfoot emphasized, "the White House has been very supportive of our plan", and that based on the study's findings, NASA and the White House made the latest EM-1 decisions "together".

"I've been saying it for a while". Lightfoot's only response: "They have not asked us to go to Mars by 2024". If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.

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