NASA won't rush astronauts back to the moon to please Donald Trump

NASA Orion Space Craft launching

NASA Orion Space Craft launching

NASA won't fly humans on its first launch of the Space Launch System, the largest rocket in the agency's history.

NASA appreciates the energy, creativity, and depth of engineering and program analysis that was brought to the decision, but ultimately, the decision was made not to fly crew on the first flight after weighing the data and assessing all implications.

"After evaluating cost, risk, and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it is hard to accommodate changes needed for a crewed EM-1 mission at this time", NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, sent in an email to agency employees that was obtained by The Verge. The massive rocket could take the first astronauts to Mars, and it could be used to launch robotic spacecraft to distant planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn, in just a few years rather than the roughly 8 to 10 years it takes with a smaller rocket.

Delay of NASA's first SLS launch will likely also push back the planned second launch of the rocket from 2021 to later, said NASA's William Gerstenmaier.

The second flight will have astronauts on board. 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.

"It's really consistent with our available resources, and while it still has technical risk, we have a good handle on that and how an uncrewed mission will actually help EM-2 be a safer mission when we put crew on there".

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The agency had considered adding two astronauts to the first SLS flight in an effort to respond to the clear desire of President Donald Trump and his aides for some kind of dramatic space mission, with astronauts, that could be achieved in the first term.

As part of the assessment, NASA also reviewed the schedule for EM-1, including production schedules across the enterprise, anticipated budgets and appropriations, and the ongoing impact of the February tornado that directly affected the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. No one was injured in the May 3 mishap. "This was a significant event for us", Gerstenmaier said.

Rockets in the early years of space flight were unreliable in test phases and sometimes blew up on the pad or shortly after liftoff.

Lightfoot acknowledged that he and others are frustrated by the technical challenges that have slowed down the program. On Friday, Lightfoot said that various delays in the program have pushed the first mission to 2019, with the exact timing still uncertain. The SLS rocket is meant to support flights to not only the moon and Mars, but the moons of Mars and even farther into the solar system, with potential commercial activity as well.

"It's really the complexity of what we are trying to go do and build these systems". "Blue Origin, it's more about the past way of doing business vs. how do we run the government more like a business", Larson said. The agency was previously shooting for a 2018 launch date.

"I've been saying it for a while".

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