Trump asks NASA to explore putting crew on rocket's debut flight

But NASA's acting administrator Robert Lightfoot asked on February 15 for the space agency to study the feasibility of putting people on board, and the findings of that study are expected in the coming months.

Under President Barack Obama, the USA space agency was working on the heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion deep-space capsule with the aim of sending astronauts to rendezvous with an asteroid in the mid-2020s, followed by a human expedition to Mars in the 2030s. NASA is building new deep space capabilities to take humans farther into the solar system than we have ever traveled, and ultimately to Mars. The B-2 Test Stand at Stennis is being prepared to test this core stage for Exploration Mission-1, the first SLS flight with Orion. These engines, along with a pair of solid rocket boosters, will lift and power the SLS on its deep-space missions.

The study will assume launching two crew members in mid-2019 and consider adjustments to the current EM-1 mission profile.

During the first mission of SLS and Orion, NASA plans to send the spacecraft into a distant lunar retrograde orbit, which will require additional propulsion moves, a flyby of the moon and return trajectory burns.

Gerstenmaier said adding crew to the mission would not be worthwhile if it forced the flight to be delayed more than about a year. The drone also captured a rainbow that formed over the test area.

Hardware for the first flight has already started arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where the missions will launch from the agency's Pad 39B.

The teleconference can be accessed on NASA's livestream. NASA's announcement page for X-Hab has even more details, or you can visit the National Space Grant Foundation's site for information on how to apply.

NASA officials said they do not feel compelled to fly the test mission with crew aboard, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's head of human space flight, told reporters on a conference call.

  • Carolyn Briggs