NASA weighing risk of adding crew to megarocket's first flight

Putting Astronauts on SLS Debut Flight Sparks Safety Group's Concern
Panel urges caution as NASA studies flying crew on first SLS
Author

27 February, 2017

The space agency's William Gerstenmaier says if adding astronauts to the first flight means delaying beyond 2019, it would probably be better to just stick with the original plan.

But NASA's acting administrator Robert Lightfoot asked on February 15 for the space agency to study the feasibility of putting people on board, and the findings of that study are expected in the coming months.

NASA is weighing the risk of adding astronauts to the first flight of its new megarocket.

Under that plan, Gerstenmaier said, almost three years are needed between an unmanned flight test and a crewed mission to make launch platform changes at Kennedy Space Center. If the agency decides to put crew on the first flight, the mission profile for EM-2 would likely replace it.

The team will assume launching two crew members in mid-2019, and consider adjustments to the current EM-1 mission profile.

Commenting on the new interest in taking astronauts on board, Bob Walker, space policy adviser to the Trump administration, said an aggressive posture on human space exploration is what the administration is looking at.

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Bill Gerstenmaier, the agency's associate administrator for human exploration & operations, said, "This study will determine how much additional time is needed ... to add crew to EM-1". Getting the test flights out of the way early could let the real work begin quicker than expected.

The first manned Orion mission was originally scheduled for 2021 when four astronauts would go on a circumlunar mission after an unmanned EM-1 had carried out a similar test flight.

"NASA should provide a compelling rationale in terms of benefits gained in return for accepting additional risk, and fully and transparently acknowledge the tradeoffs being made", said Sanders.

The first test flight of the SLS rocket, dubbed Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), is now slated to send an unmanned Orion capsule into the deep space. Carrying memorabilia and toys with no personnel, the capsule zoomed into an orbit of Earth in 2014 after being powered by a Delta IV rocket. NASA has described it as the "most powerful rocket in the world".

The test flight Exploration Mission-1 will be launched from Kennedy Space Center for a span of three weeks.

However, William Hill, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration, said sending a crew on EM-1 will broaden possibilities on EM-2.


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