CAPE CANAVERAL — NASA’s acting administrator said Wednesday that the agency will study the risks and costs of putting astronauts on the first flight of a giant new rocket being readied to launch deep space missions from Kennedy Space Center. The agency has been targeting a late-2018 liftoff of the Saturn V-class Space Launch System rocket with an unmanned Orion crew capsule that would fly around the moon. Adding a crew would delay that flight, but it could accelerate by years the system’s first launch of astronauts, which is now planned in 2021 at best but realistically maybe not until 2023. “I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date,” Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, wrote in a memo to employees. “That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space.” NASA, Kennedy Space Center await direction from Trump Lightfoot referenced ongoing discussions with the Trump administration’s transition team at NASA, saying that “NASA is clearly a priority for the President and his administration.” Space historian John Logsdon said the study reflects a desire to pursue an exciting crewed mission more quickly. “It’s an intriguing proposition to do something this bold,” said Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “And given the rather slow pace of the program of record, if this proves feasible, I think it would be very exciting development.” Bob Walker, a former congressman and adviser to the Trump administration who helped craft the Trump campaign’s space policy, said the administration wants to take a more aggressive posture on human space exploration with at least a lunar flyby as quickly as possible.
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