WMFE is Central Florida's primary provider of NPR programming on 90.7 FM and Classical Music on 90.7 HD2. Part of the community since 1965, WMFE focuses on providing quality national and local news and programming. We inspire and empower all Central Floridians to discover, grow and engage within and beyond their world.
CLOSEOpt Out: I already like WMFE!

Like us on Facebook!

Support for 90.7 WMFE is provided by

No Crew On Maiden Voyage Of NASA’s Next Rocket

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

When NASA’s Space Launch System blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center for the first time, the capsule will be empty. Acting Director Robert Lightfoot announced the decision after a review of Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), the first mission atop the massive rocket.

For the past two months, the space agency has been looking into the possibility of putting a crew in the Orion capsule, NASA’s next human spacecraft. “After evaluating cost, risk, and technical factors in a project of this magnitude,” said Lightfoot, “it is difficult to accommodate changes needed for a crewed EM-1 mission at this time.”

The mission would send the Orion capsule in an orbit around the moon, testing the hardware in deep space. It’s a step in NASA’s goal of putting humans on Mars in the 2030s.

Lightfoot said that while putting crew on that first mission is technically feasible, it would be too costly to pull off. NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier told reporters it would cost about $600-$900 million to upgrade the EM-1 mission for astronauts. That cost would include an upgrade to the capsule’s heat shield.

The space agency was forced to move the launch date to sometime in 2019, a shift from the previous November 2018 target launch. Officials will meet in the next few weeks to finalize that target date.

Manufacturing delays are partly to blame. Parts of the rocket are fabricated at Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. A tornado damaged the facility earlier this year and a part of the rocket’s liquid oxygen tank was damaged earlier this week, adding to delays.

On a call to the International Space Station last month, President Trump accelerated the timeline to put humans on Mars. “I think we want to do it in my first term or at worst in my second term,” Trump said, “so I think we’ll have to speed that up a little bit.”

Lightfoot told reporters Friday that the White House has not asked NASA to get to Mars by 2024.

The next opportunity to send a crew on the Orion capsule is in 2021 on Exploration Mission 2, although NASA officials said that schedule is likely to slip.

Sign Up For 90.7 WMFE's Newsletter

Catch up on the latest Central Florida news and get updates on programs, events and more.


WMFE Journalistic Ethics Code | Public Media Code of Integrity

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 »