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NASA May Fly Humans On the Less Powerful Version of Its Deep-Space Rocket ( 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: NASA may make some big changes to the first couple flights of its future deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System, after getting a recent funding boost from Congress to build a new launch platform. When humans fly on the rocket for the first time in the 2020s, they might ride on a less powerful version of the vehicle than NASA had expected. If the changes move forward, it could scale down the first crewed mission into deep space in more than 45 years. The SLS has been in development for the last decade, and when complete, it will be NASA's main rocket for taking astronauts to the Moon and Mars. NASA has long planned to debut the SLS with two crucial test missions. The first flight, called EM-1, will be uncrewed, and it will send the smallest planned version of the rocket on a three-week long trip around the Moon. Three years later, NASA plans to launch a bigger, more powerful version of the rocket around the Moon with a two-person crew -- a mission called EM-2.

But now, NASA may delay that rocket upgrade and fly the same small version of the SLS for the crewed flight instead. If that happens, NASA would need to come up with a different type of mission for the crew to do since they won't be riding on the more powerful version of the vehicle. "If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can't do what we could do if we had the [larger SLS]," Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator, said during a Congressional hearing yesterday. NASA clarified that astronauts would still fly around the Moon on the second flight. However, the rocket would not be able to carry extra science payloads as NASA had originally planned. "The primary objective for EM-2 is to demonstrate critical functions with crew aboard, including mission planning, system performance, crew interfaces, and navigation and guidance in deep space, which can be accomplished on a Block 1 SLS," a NASA spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge.

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NASA May Fly Humans On the Less Powerful Version of Its Deep-Space Rocket

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  • by duckintheface ( 710137 ) on Saturday April 14, 2018 @06:18AM (#56435933)

    NASA has forgotten how to do manned space flight. It is afraid to take risks and is a bureaucratic echo of its former self. The Alabama Mafia (Sen. Shelby, Rep. Brooks) drives the NASA budget to Huntsville and the Marshall Space Flight Center operations there. But it's all about money and jobs, not about going to Mars (or even the dumb Moon idea). JPL and some other NASA labs are still doing good work in deep space probes and Earth observing satellites. But the big rockets are now the province of SpaceX and maybe a couple of other private companies.

    We should be thrilled (I know I am) that a new generation of explorers and engineers is developing re-usable and cost effective space travel. NASA should stick to the science.

    • by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Saturday April 14, 2018 @07:33AM (#56436079)

      But it's all about money and jobs,

      Yes. This is basically just a desperate attempt to keep SLS relevant (sorta) long enough to keep the money flowing for a few more years before SpaceX makes this colossal waste of money so obvious that it can no longer be tolerated, even by an utterly supine Congress.

      Best of luck to them...

    • We should be thrilled (I know I am) that a new generation of explorers and engineers is developing re-usable and cost effective space travel.

      And everyone is... except congress.

      NASA should stick to the science.

      That's kind of a problem when congress is doing everything in there power to prevent them from doing important science like closely monitoring Earth as climate change happens.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday April 14, 2018 @11:02AM (#56436601) Homepage Journal

      Even if it's true NASA has become more risk averse, which I don't believe, that's not what's going on here. The problem is that they tried to save money and ended up spending more.

      They refurbished the mobile launch platform they built for the cancelled Ares rocket to carry the SLS rockets, but when they finished the design of the larger SLS 1B rocket it no longer fit. And it's not like you can go down to the local welding shop and have them whip up one of these []. So they're limited to the smaller Block 1 rockets until they can build another one.

      NASA was plenty risk-averse in the Space Race days. They delayed the Apollo program for 20 months after the Apollo 1 fire, which pretty much used up all the program slack they had if they were to land a man on the Moon "before the decade was out." Lunar module Eagle landed on July 20, 1969. The big advantages back then was that they had a clear goal everyone was committed to, and were willing to spend fabulous amounts of money achieving it.

      Adjusted for inflation, NASA budgets in the 60s were over twice the size of the current budget, and the majority of that budget was going to Apollo. That's over 20 billion a year in current dollars. Throw 20 billion dollars a year at Mars for as along as it takes to get there, and we'd have a good chance of seeing a manned landing attempted in the 2035 launch window. The problem is 17 years may be within most of our lifetimes, but that's too long for politicians to delay gratification.

      That's why the Moon. Sure we already did it fifty years ago, and there's not many compelling reasons to land massive human habitats down in that particular gravity well now that we're so good at robotics. But it's something that could be done with spare change in the political lifetimes of people now in office.

      • The problem is that they tried to save money and ended up spending more.

        It's not exactly a problem if the real goal is spending money.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          Actually that's true. They refurbished the old mobile launch platform at more than the cost it would have taken to build a new one, and now they're building the new one anyway. The problem is all that spending is bound to be in only one or two Congressional districts.

          Take the F35, the most politically refractory corporate welfare program in history. The economic impact of that program is spread of 46 states, the four that miss out accounting for 7 Congressional seats out of 435.

      • Those guys are not screwing around.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2018 @06:34AM (#56435961)

    SLS looks like a total waste of money compared to the other commerical alternatives.

    Why don't opponents simply get a respected thrid party to do a Cost/benefit analysis of the various systems ?

    Then NASA can junk SLS and spend the billions on useful stuff.

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )

      Why don't opponents simply get a respected thrid party to do a Cost/benefit analysis of the various systems?

      It's been done with committees and study groups throughout the years. Problem is when they load it with people that agree/disagree with strategic goals (i.e. commission of planetary scientists who typically don't favor HSF) or place budget limits like $3B which place artificial barrier to perhaps a good system ruled out because it will cost $3.5B. Net result is still stuck in LEO after decades.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    SLS..... Just when you thought it wasn't pathetic enough, surprise! You get a money infusion and your mission capabilities DEGRADE. The debacle noted in the article regarding the crawler exemplifies the situation to a T. They build a crawler, then change the program so that the crawler needs "upgrades" which cost more than it took to build the crawler in the first place, and those upgrades won't even allow it to carry the subsequent blocks of the rocket so it will need EVEN MORE upgrades. And we wonder

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Saturday April 14, 2018 @07:57AM (#56436115)
    Rumor has it that the 2017 ITS will actually be a little bit stretched since the Raptors perform better than expected. We'll have to wait and see, but hell, even the old version would be superior to *this*.
    • I'd like to know what you mean by "stretched". Physically larger? I'm glad to hear that the Raptor is working well. Of course the importance of the Raptor is that it's a methane-fueled rocket engine and methane can be produced pretty easily on the surface of Mars. That means you don't have to take the return fuel to Mars with you. That's what you must have to establish a colony.

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Saturday April 14, 2018 @10:49AM (#56436543) Homepage
    SpaceX will be able to build, test and fly the BFR before the SLS ever gets off the ground. NASA is great a running missions because there are no politics in space (yet). But when it comes to anything on the ground, forget it.

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