The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) weighs carrying humans on Exploration Mission (EM)-1, marking the first such trip since the Apollo era ended in the early 1970s. The U.S. space agency is exploring whether it is viable to fly astronauts on the test flight of its heavy-lift rocket, which is at the moment planned to be uncrewed and targeted to launch next year.
The exploration marks Trump’s first step in shaping a vision for the U.S. space agency. The United States has not sent astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit since 1970s. Following requests from the White House, NASA has built a team to examine speeding up earlier plans to launch a crew by 2021.
Engineers are evaluating additional costs, schedule delays, hardware changes, and increased risks of carrying two astronauts on the first flight on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. On Thursday, the agency’s safety oversight panel cautioned that they should have compelling reasons for adding astronauts to justify the risk to human life, extra cost, and schedule delays.
NASA boasts that Exploration Mission-1 will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world. It notes that the study is a measurement and not a decision as the chief mission for EM-1 remains an unmanned flight test. The space agency said that their priority is to ensure effective and safe execution of all their planned tests with the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft.
NASA is studying a possible crewed mission around the moon as early as 2018. It is building new capabilities to take astronauts farther into the solar system than humans have ever traveled. The space agency said that it however, does not feel compelled to fly the test mission with crew aboard, reports Reuters. It noted that the team will have a better idea by next month.
According to Bloomberg, last week, NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot circulated a memo calling for review of EM-1 and 2. Under the original plan, the mission’s SLS rocket and Orion capsule had been planned to make an uncrewed flight around the moon next year, and accommodate a crew on the following flight three years later.
NASA is studying a deep space manned trip after prod from President Donald Trump. The EM-1 space vehicle is expected to orbit the moon, gather information, and lay the groundwork for a trip to Mars. The schedule is for crew members to board a second flight, Exploration Mission-2, which has a provisional launch date of August 2021. The advisory panel stressed that the U.S. space agency needs a “compelling” reason for risking the lives of astronauts.
By Anila Maring
Photo Courtesy NASA