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NASA Explores Possibility Of Crewed Orion Mission Earlier Than Planned

Artist's concept of SLS/Orion on the launch pad. Photo: NASA

NASA may launch humans into deep space sooner than planned.

In a memo to NASA staff, acting director Robert Lightfoot said he’s exploring the idea of launching a crew on Exploration Mission 1 – the first launch of the agency’s new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).

Read the memo from Acting Director Lightfoot to NASA staff, obtained by Spaceref.com. 

The previous plan was to launch the rocket with the Orion capsule uncrewed around the moon to test the spacecraft and its systems in deep space. Then, in the early 2020s, send a crewed mission to deep space.

Now, Lightfoot is asking William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Directorate , to look into the feasibility of sending a crew on the next mission, possibly as early as 2019.

“I know the challenges associated with such a proposition,” wrote Lightfoot, “like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date. 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.”

Lockheed Martin is working with NASA to design and build the Orion Capsule. Allison Miller, a Lockheed Martin Orion spokesperson said “Lockheed Martin will support NASA on a study to determine the feasibility of flying a crew on Exploration Mission-1. We’ll look at accelerating remaining crew system designs, as well as potential technical and schedule challenges and how to mitigate them.”

The rocket has never been flown and is still under development at various space flight centers across the country. The Orion capsule was launched once into space back in 2014 on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy.

The move comes during a transitional period at NASA. President Trump has yet to name a permanent Director of the agency. During the campaign, Trump outlined a plan for space exploration that included a greater reliance on commercial space companies.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »