NASA considers launching manned missions earlier than planned

The U.S. space agency announced on Wednesday that it plans to study the feasibility of adding a crew to the first flight of its Space Launch System rocket, which was originally scheduled to launch in 2018.

    2017/02/17

NSFW    MERRITT ISLAND, FLORIDA — NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot announced Wednesday that the space agency is thinking of sending astronauts on a manned mission earlier than planned, possibly within U.S. President Donald Trump’s first term in office.

The Washington Post reports that NASA seems to be taking a bolder, riskier approach after the president made it apparent he wanted the U.S. to retain its dominance in space.

Since the end of the Space Shuttle program, NASA has relied on Russia to send its astronauts into space.

NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket was originally slated to go on its first exploration mission in 2018 with an unmanned space capsule.

This timeline calls for the SLS to be launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 30, carrying the Orion space capsule into space in a mission known as EM-1.

The capsule would orbit the moon for about three weeks before returning to earth, splashing down into the ocean with the help of parachutes.

A second crewed mission, the EM-2, was scheduled for 2021, with an alternative launch date set for 2023. But with new plans to consider the addition of a crew to EM-1, it seems astronauts could be going on the Orion as early as 2019.

For that, NASA needs an SLS rocket with a more powerful second stage, known as the Exploration Upper Stage, or EUS. The design for the EUS already passed a major review, but it has yet to be built.

Another hurdle that the agency needs to overcome is human-rating the Orion space capsule, which at the moment is still missing key life support systems.

NASA may be enthusiastic about its latest move, but it’s unclear how it will meet program schedules, especially given its limited budget.
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