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NASA officials discuss Trump's push for first-term moon mission

NASA officials discuss Trump's push for first-term moon mission

Under that plan, Gerstenmaier said, almost three years are needed between an unmanned flight test and a crewed mission to make launch platform changes at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA is working on a risk analysis report over sending astronauts on the maiden flight of the most powerful rocket - the Space Launch System or SLS in the integrated flight with the Orion spacecraft.

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.

NASA is weighing the risk of adding astronauts to the first flight of its new megarocket, created to eventually send crews to Mars.

"I don't have a preconceived position as to whether I'm for this or against this", said William Gerstenmaier, an associate administrator who is the top official for human spaceflight. "At the moment, NASA has no estimate on the additional costs of adding life support, an abort system and other hardware that would be needed for EM-1 to fly with a crew". Trump and his team have yet to nominate anyone to run the agency, and NASA is now guided by acting administrator Robert Lightfoot, a civil servant. Echoing that sentiment was William Hill, a deputy associate administrator: "We will let the identified risk and benefits drive this, as well as the data".

Until the agency releases its report, no one will know what concrete costs or hard benefits might result from trying to please the White House, but NASA indicates that it's happy to at least consider the proposition.

However she said the safely panel, created in the aftermath of the 1967 fire that killed three Apollo 1 astronauts, felt "compelled to provide a note of advice and caution" about the potential changes to an "already fairly aggressive test program of record". Hill seemed to contradict that a few minutes later, saying that NASA would like to "stress the systems" on Orion in the initial flight, "which we probably wouldn't do with a crew on board".

Containing memorabilia and toys but no people, the capsule was launched into an extremely long orbit of Earth in 2014 by a Delta IV rocket, and splashed down into the Pacific.

After orbiting the moon, the EM1 will bring data to Earth for making the groundwork for a Mars trip.

EM-1 stands for Exploration Mission-1, when the Orion spacecraft, carried by the SLS, will travel thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission.

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