NASA rules out astronauts on first flight of super-massive rocket

NASA rules out astronauts on first flight of super-massive rocket

Putting a crew on board the first flight of the Orion capsule atop the super-massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket would not be feasible because of immense safety costs, a NASA working group has concluded.

The first flight of the super-massive rocket, which is being seen as the first step in the United States’ return to human space exploration, has been scheduled to take place sometime in 2019.

NASA usually tests new rockets first without a crew, given numerous safety risks associated with such space vehicles.

Announcing its conclusion on Friday, the NASA group cited the huge expenses that the agency would have to incur to add a crew to the planned first flight of the huge rocket.

Casey Dreier, space policy director at The Planetary Society, said, “Changing the plans midstream is where you start to incur cost that is not commensurate with your return. You’re working with these massive programs … changing that just throws things into chaos.”

NASA team’s decision has reiterated that despite tremendous technological advances, rocket science continues to retain its reputation as a disreputably risky endeavor.

The official NASA release further informed...

Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot announced Feb. 15 that he had asked William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington, to conduct the study, and it is now underway. NASA expects it to be completed in early spring.

The assessment will review the technical feasibility, risks, benefits, additional work required, resources needed and any associated schedule impacts to add crew to the first mission.

“Our priority is to ensure the safe and effective execution of all our planned exploration missions with the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket,” said Gerstenmaier. “This is an assessment and not a decision as the primary mission for EM-1 remains an uncrewed flight test.”

The assessment is evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of this concept with regards to short- and long-term goals of achieving deep space exploration capabilities for the nation. It will assume launching two crew members in mid-2019, and consider adjustments to the current EM-1 mission profile.

During the first mission of SLS and Orion, NASA plans to send the spacecraft into a distant lunar retrograde orbit, which will require additional propulsion moves, a flyby of the moon and return trajectory burns. The mission is planned as a challenging trajectory to test maneuvers and the environment of space expected on future missions to deep space. If the agency decides to put crew on the first flight, the mission profile for Exploration Mission-2 would likely replace it, which is an approximately eight-day mission with a multi-translunar injection with a free return trajectory.

NASA is investigating hardware changes associated with the system that will be needed if crew are to be added to EM-1. As a starting condition, NASA would maintain the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion stage for the first flight. The agency will also consider moving up the ascent abort test for Orion before the mission.

Regardless of the outcome for the study, the feasibility assessment does not conflict with NASA’s ongoing work schedules for the first two missions. Hardware for the first flight has already started arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the missions will launch from the agency’s historic Pad 39B.