Crew In SLS Mega Rocket Flight: NASA Weighing Risks

But President Trump apparently wants to do something bold with the space program, and his team has asked NASA to consider speeding up a long-planned moon mission. "We will definitely have a [later launch date]".

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.

The launch, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), is now scheduled to be the first test flight of the SLS booster, which will send an uncrewed Orion capsule into deep space.

"The space shuttle really wasn't built to be flown unmanned, and we would have had to do an bad lot to make that happen", former astronaut Bob Crippen, the pilot on the first shuttle flight, said in an interview with

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".

NASA will take about a month to assess how much extra time, money and risk would be added to the debut flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket if a two-member crew was aboard, officials said today. Moving up the timeline will require additional resources to develop and test multiple new systems at once, from life support to emergency escape capabilities. Getting the test flights out of the way early could let the real work begin quicker than expected.

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"I don't have a preconceived position as to whether I'm for this or against this", said William Gerstenmaier, an associate administrator who is the top official for human spaceflight.

"We recognize this will be an increased risk", said Mr. Gerstenmaier "We take that increased risk, and we take it against the benefits we gain by doing this, and we say, 'Is that something that is worthwhile for us to go and do?' Then we have an agency-wide discussion on whether this is an appropriate risk for us to take".

He said the agency will be weighing the safety risks associated with the launch versus the benefits.

Yesterday, an independent safety panel cautioned that NASA needs a compelling reason to put astronauts on the initial flight, given the risk.

The panel was constituted after the Apollo 1 fire tragedy in 1967 in which three astronauts were killed during a countdown test. 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. "But in the assessment, we strongly advise that NASA carefully and cautiously weigh the value proposition for flying crew on EM-1".

NASA normally prefers testing rockets without people, although for the inaugural space shuttle flight in 1981, two pilots were on board.

  • Douglas Reid