Trump asks NASA to study feasibility of crew on rocket's flight

But there is a realization that even if taking the crew in the flight would entail some delay, it will speed up the system's first launch of astronauts set for 2021. It will launch an Orion space capsule on a route that would take it around our celestial neighbor and then back to Earth. If the agency decides to put crew on the first flight, the mission profile for EM-2 would likely replace it.

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, NASA said.

"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", says William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

A-1 test stand RS-25 firing from a drone
A drone captures never-before-seen views of a test firing of an RS-25 engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center

NASA needs a "compelling" reason for risking astronauts' lives on the first launch of a new exploration rocket from Kennedy Space Center, if a study determines such a mission is feasible, a panel of independent safety advisers said Thursday at KSC.

Last week, NASA asked Gerstenmaier to initiate the study, which began on February 17 and is expected to be completed in early spring.

The officials made clear that changing the current plan, and adding a crew to the first test flight, would increase the mission risk.

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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.

"There's not pressure to go do this", Gerstenmaier said.

"We are not proposing what the outcome of NASA's assessment should be", Patricia Sanders, chairwoman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said during the meeting.

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The panel was constituted after the Apollo 1 fire tragedy in 1967 in which three astronauts were killed during a countdown test.

NASA is shooting for an unmanned test flight for late next year.

Containing memorabilia and toys but no people, the capsule was launched into an extremely long orbit of Earth in 2014 by a Delta IV rocket, and splashed down into the Pacific. It's being built for travel to the moon and to Mars.

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However, William Hill, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration, said sending a crew on EM-1 will broaden possibilities on EM-2. NASA has described it as the "most powerful rocket in the world".

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