NASA to Launch First SLS Super Rocket Into Space Without Crew

The Soyuz MS-04 rocket carrying Expedition 51 Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome

The Soyuz MS-04 rocket carrying Expedition 51 Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome

- Nasa/MSFC/Handout via Reuters picFLORIDA May 12 - Nasa has delayed the first launch of its heavy-payload rocket until 2019 and decided against an idea floated by the White House to put astronauts aboard the capsule that is set to fly around the moon, the U.S. space agency said yesterday.

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.

Last month, NASA announced that the first flight of SLS, crewed or not, would not happen until 2019. "NASA will execute its normal process to determine an official revised launch date for EM-1", Lightfoot wrote in his statement.

NASA is building the world's most powerful rocket - known as the Space Launch System (SLS) - to propel the spacecraft to the area around the Moon and eventually to Mars.

After evaluating the cost and risk, the space agency decided against it.

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

William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator of NASA's Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, explained that turning EM-1 into a crewed mission would have required about $600 million to $900 million.

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The announcement came during a teleconference with NASA's Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and head of Human Exploration Bill Gerstenmaier. It is scheduled for 2021, but will nearly certainly be later because of all the delays with the first flight.

"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". He cited production challenges and the effects of a February tornado at the Michoud Assembly Facility where the SLS core stage is being built as some of the reasons for the slip.

A 2018 budget "blueprint" from the Trump administration suggests a $19.1 billion NASA budget, including $3.7 billion for continued SLS and Orion development.

Reading between the lines, it seems that the additional funding and time needed outstripped any desire to send humans into space during Trump's first term. "We knew both of those had to be there, because we had certain components that just were not there". He continued to say that by not having a crew on EM-1, NASA will be able to push the Orion spacecraft and propulsion systems harder and longer, targeting a mission of between 21 and 25 days.

The Block 1 version features an interim upper stage derived from Boeing's Delta 4 rocket powered by a single hydrogen-fueled Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10B2 engine.

Even in its initial configuration, the giant SLS rocket will generate a ground-shaking 8.8 million pounds of thrust - 15 percent more than NASA's legendary Saturn 5 moon rocket - enough to boost the 5.75 million-pound rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere. As such, NASA is sticking with an uncrewed EM-1 flight.

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