NASA delays deep-space Orion test to 2019 due to costs

US Navy divers and other personnel practicing for recovery of Orion on its return from deep space missions, using a test version
US Navy divers and other personnel practicing for recovery of Orion on its return from deep space missions, using a test version of the crew module

The first test flight of NASA's Orion capsule, designed to one day carry people to Mars, has been delayed until 2019 at the earliest due to high costs, the US space agency said Friday.

The unmanned test flight had been scheduled for November 2018 but was pushed back after the White House asked for a feasibility study of the cost, safety and technical constraints.

NASA also decided against a proposal to add astronauts to the first mission, known as EM-1.

Instead, the will stick to its original plan of putting crew on the second test mission, known as EM-2, planned for August 2021 at the earliest.

That second flight is likely be delayed beyond 2021, too, said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA's Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate.

Concerns about containing costs, improving the heat shield on the spacecraft, and adding life support systems to the spaceship all factored into the decision, he told reporters on a conference call.

"Even though it was feasible, it just didn't seem warranted in this environment," he said.

"And then it is going to cost more, and we have the budget that we have to be considerate of and make sure we spend the minimum amount for this stuff moving forward," he added.

"It's really the complexity of what we are trying to go do and build these systems."

NASA is building the world's most powerful rocket—known as the Space Launch System (SLS)—to propel the spacecraft to the area around the Moon and eventually to Mars.

The decision to delay the Orion flights was made in partnership with the White House, NASA officials said.

No formal date has been set for the 2019 mission, but that should be coming in the next few months, said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

Manned exploration of Mars is expected to exceed $33 billion by 2033.

Speaking to astronauts at the International Space Station last month, US President Donald Trump seemed to urge NASA to hurry along its efforts to send people to Mars—a currently planned for the 2030s.

"Well, we want to try to do it during my first term or at worst during my second term so we will have to speed that up a little bit ok?" Trump said, eliciting laughter from the astronauts floating in microgravity.

Lightfoot was asked by reporters Friday if the White House meant that.

"They have asked us to look at the plan we have got today and see if we can keep going on that plan," he answered.

"They have not asked us to go to Mars by 2024."

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© 2017 AFP

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User comments

May 13, 2017
Glad we're not counting on these 'corporatized 1000 overpaid suppliers' anymore. Everything is slowed down and fubared by a factor of 10, and the finances are entirely unrealistic..

Hint, re 'space x', on how things that are functional ....should really happen:

The most effective missile in the us system is the sidewinder.

It was the only one ever designed by a single man.

OTOH, for decades, the story has been that there is a second, black space program.

And the minimal billions spent on the public one, is a slow down ''promise story", made to be like incompetent ass clowns.

that the real evolution is in those black projects where the 100's of billions have disappeared down a 'second government' black hole.

The pentagon has somehow misplaced over 3 trillion dollars and refuses to account for it (fact, look it up), and the stories of other technologies....... amount to the near hundreds.

It's getting hard to keep a lid on it, these days.

May 13, 2017
Given this, have we glimpsed the 'Great Filter' which would prevent any civilisation exhibiting this meme going beyond their g-well ??
IIRC, the ISS is notoriously out-massed umpteen-fold by its paper studies...

May 13, 2017
Von Braun was not interested in going to the Moon, he wanted to go to Mars, and the Saturn 5 was designed to do that, it was way overkill for what it ended being used for. NASAs job seems to be to prevent civilians ever going anywhere much, Mars will never happen and most likely no Moon base either.

May 13, 2017
Pure BS Solon. The Saturn 5 was certainly not overkill.
The Saturn 5 was the best they could do with the budget they had (the best the world has seen to date), and even then it was only good enough for a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous style Moon landing. Certainly not good enough for the long journey to Mars, and it certainly could not land a lander on Mars.
There are LOTS of technical issues to solve in landing humans on Mars. None of which Apollo answered. Apollo was an incredibly well engineered mission for the job of landing astronauts on the Moon AND ONLY the Moon. I'm still in awe at what people achieved in that Era. The engineering was remarkable. The will and drive to achieve the goal was awe inspiring. We are now seeing this again with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos as well as countries like China.

May 14, 2017
Well, that will teach me not to believe National Geographic any more. My info came from watching their "Mars" 6 part TV series.

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