NASA's next Orion flight could be manned

NASA Asked by Trump Administration to Explore Placing Crew on SLS Rocket's Debut Flight

NASA Asked by Trump Administration to Explore Placing Crew on SLS Rocket's Debut Flight

The Space Launch System is expected to be the most powerful rocket ever to fly. A crewed mission, under the existing plan, will fly aboard the SLS/Orion system on the EM-2 mission sometime in 2021.

A study on the feasibility of adding a crew to the mission is now underway and is being led by William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington, NASA reports.

Robert Lightfoot, who was previously the space agency's acting Associate Administrator, has asked staff to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to Exploration Mission-1, the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.

However, NASA's Aerospace Advisory Panel has cautioned the government-run space agency not to pursue an early crewed mission without strong technical justification.

Last week, NASA asked Gerstenmaier to initiate the study, which began on February 17 and is expected to be completed in early spring.

NASA is weighing the risk of adding astronauts to the first flight of its new megarocket, created to eventually send crews to Mars.

The idea is to combine EM-1 and EM-2 into one mission, developing and adding the systems necessary to keep the cabin pressurized with breathable air.

NASA will finalize its report in a month.

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Gerstenmaier said the first flight, if astronauts are involved, would probably last eight or nine days.

"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.

NASA is shooting for an unmanned test flight for late next year.

The capsule that will carry the astronauts, NASA's new Orion, already has flown on a space demo.

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

After orbiting the moon, the EM1 will bring data to Earth for making the groundwork for a Mars trip. "But in the assessment, we strongly advise that NASA carefully and cautiously weigh the value proposition for flying crew on EM-1".

Trump has shown an interest in President John F. Kennedy's vow more than half a century ago to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, and, eyeing his reelection prospects, Trump could potentially announce some kind of ambitious space mission for NASA, likely in combination with entrepreneurial space companies.