29May2017

SLS Update: Astronauts Won’t Fly on First Launch

NASA won't send astronauts on new rocket's 1st mission despite Trump's request

NASA won’t send astronauts on new rocket’s 1st mission despite Trump’s request

 The Space Launch System, or SLS, is NASA’s newest way to send astronauts into space.But there are hiccups along the way that may change NASA’s plans. Here Megan Ray Nicholls  explains the hurdles.

While it’s designed to carry these space-faring humans to Mars and beyond, NASA has decided that that the launch system’s maiden voyage will be unmanned. NASA has decided to leave its astronauts home for the first launch of the SLS, scheduled for 2019.

What Is the SLS?

The SLS is by far the most powerful rocket that NASA has ever made. It’s designed to carry the Orion deep space vehicle into orbit, with the small craft topping the SLS’s massive 322 foot height. It uses a multi-stage booster system with solid rocket boosters, similar to the booster system that used to carry the Space Shuttles into orbit. The main difference is in the rockets and boosters themselves — they’re much more powerful than the ones NASA has previously used, and they could easily carry our astronauts to Mars and beyond.

The SLS’s Maiden Voyage

The maiden voyage for this massively impressive launch system was originally scheduled for 2018, but it has recently been pushed back to 2019 due to a number different reasons, but primarily tornado damage at one of NASA’s manufacturing facilities in New Orleans.

Image result for SLS : Astronauts

Astronauts were to launch on the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), pending a NASA study

The SLS and the Orion capsule are the first pieces of the space infrastructure that will hopefully turn the human race into a space-faring species. Like SpaceX’s Stage 1 Falcon rockets, NASA is focusing on sustainable space travel — reusable rockets that will help the space program save money.

The old Shuttle program was focused on getting astronauts in orbit. The booster rockets were discarded, dropping into the Atlantic Ocean after each use. The large iconic orange external fuel tanks would burn up in orbit. There was some talk about them being used in space but nothing ever came of it.

The official date for the launch hasn’t yet been announced, and NASA is leaving its astronauts at home.

It’s All About Safety and Funding

The Trump Administration asked NASA to put astronauts aboard the SLS’s first test flight in 2019. Though they may have considered it at some point, the minds behind the SLS project eventually denied the request, primarily out of concern about the astronauts’ safety.

Image result for Orion capsule ready for a manned flight in 2019,

NASA hopes to launch the Orion spacecraft atop the agency’s massive new rocket (the SLS)

Anyone who is familiar with the history of the space program remembers the tests that preceded the first manned space flight. The tests were essential to make sure that the rockets were safe. They helped, as the first Atlas rocket exploded and a Mercury-Redstone launch only made it 4 inches off the ground.

The Orion pod is equipped with a launch abort system that, theoretically, would allow the astronauts to escape the pod in the event of a failure, but catastrophic failures don’t typically leave enough time to react, let alone escape.

The safety of the astronauts comes first, but there is also the cost of the project to consider. It is entirely possible to get the Orion capsule ready for a manned flight in 2019.

But it would cost an additional $600 to $900 million dollars and could potentially delay the launch again. With that in mind, the president’s suggestion was respectfully declined. The SLS won’t carry astronauts into space until summer 2021 if there are no further delays.

The SLS will change the way we explore our solar system, starting with Mars. We might not make it to the red planet before Elon Musk’s brainchild SpaceX, but NASA is focusing on the safety of its astronauts and that, above everything else, is the most important part of the space program.

photoSupplied by: Megan Ray Nichols – Freelance Science Writer

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