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

By Karen Graham     Feb 25, 2017 in Technology
President Trump has directed NASA to conduct a feasibility study on adding astronauts to the first flight of its new megarocket, a project currently planned as an unmanned mission around the moon in 2018.
While the requested study marks Trump's first attempt in shaping his vision of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the request came as a surprise to agency administrators because existing plans were for an unmanned flight of nine days around the moon, reports Phys.org.
But Trump, who has yet to appoint a new NASA administrator, wants to speed up the mission and wants to see whether two astronauts can make the flight, even though the agency's heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion deep-space capsule have yet to go through all the necessary safety testing required on the systems.
“From my perspective, there’s not pressure to go do this,” William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said when asked about the surprise decision, reports Quartz. “This is something we’re going to evaluate. … What do we really gain by putting a crew on this flight?”
Gerstenmaier said that a feasibility study is supposed to be finished in thirty days, but he already realizes that adding a manned crew will set back the planned launch of the SLS by three years because of launch platform changes that will be needed at the Kennedy Space Center.
Not only that, but on Thursday, an independent safety panel cautioned that NASA needs a compelling reason to put astronauts on the initial flight, given the risk. That panel was formed 50 years ago last month after the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts in a countdown test.
“If the benefits warrant the assumption of additional risk, we expect NASA to clearly and openly articulate their decision-processing rationale,” Patricia Sanders, head of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said at a meeting at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to Reuters.
It all comes down to the question of "Would it be worth it to have a manned flight, and what would be gained technically by having a crew aboard?
More about NASA, manned flight, justifying the cost, orion capsule, space launch system
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