Trump asks NASA to study feasibility of crew on rocket's flight
"That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space", Lightfoot added.
The current timeline calls for NASA's next generation rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), to send an unmanned capsule for a loop around the moon by 2019. Gerstenmaier said that a feasibility study is supposed to be finished in thirty days, but he already realizes that adding a manned crew will set back the planned launch of the SLS by three years because of launch platform changes that will be needed at the Kennedy Space Center.
That flight, Exploration Mission 1, or EM-1, is scheduled for November 2018. Moving up the timeline will require additional resources to develop and test multiple new systems at once, from life support to emergency escape capabilities. A crewed mission, under the existing plan, will fly aboard the SLS/Orion system on the EM-2 mission sometime in 2021.
However, NASA's Aerospace Advisory Panel has cautioned the government-run space agency not to pursue an early crewed mission without strong technical justification.
Under former President Barack Obama, the US space agency was working on the heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion deep-space capsule with the aim of sending astronauts to rendezvous with an asteroid in the mid-2020s, followed by a human expedition to Mars in the 2030s.
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On Friday, two NASA officials held a teleconference with reporters to discuss the feasibility study, and they avoided signaling whether they think adding astronauts to a test flight is a good idea.
"We recognise this will be an increased risk" to put astronauts on the initial flight, Gerstenmaier said.
Until the agency releases its report, no one will know what concrete costs or hard benefits might result from trying to please the White House, but NASA indicates that it's happy to at least consider the proposition. "This is an assessment and not a decision as the primary mission for EM-1 remains an uncrewed flight test".
NASA normally tests rockets without people on board, with a lone exception being the space shuttle debut flight of 1981 that carried two pilots on board.
However, William Hill, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration, said sending a crew on EM-1 will broaden possibilities on EM-2.
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