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NASA Decision On Crewed EM-1 Feasibility

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Friday, May 12, 2017

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I am writing to provide an update on the study regarding the feasibility of putting crew on the first integrated flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft -- Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).
 
We appreciate the opportunity to evaluate the possibility of this crewed flight. The bi-partisan support of Congress and the president for our efforts to send astronauts deeper into the solar system than we have ever gone before is valued and does not go unnoticed.
 
NASA appreciates the energy, creativity, and depth of engineering and program analysis that was brought to the decision, but ultimately, the decision was made not to fly crew on the first flight after weighing the data and assessing all implications. However, the work we did on this evaluation will flow into our planning for the next two years. We look forward to using this information to strengthen our EM-2 posture.
 
We are grateful for the near-term flexibility offered by the FY 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, and we are confident that we remain technically capable of launching crew on EM-1. However, after evaluating cost, risk, and technical factors in a project of this magnitude, it is difficult to accommodate changes needed for a crewed EM-1 mission at this time.
 
NASA continues to lead the way in sending humans into deep space beyond the moon. The results of our evaluation, and the work we will add going forward, will make EM-1 and our total system better as we prepare for a long-term push to extend human presence deeper into our solar system. Our resolve remains strong.
 
We need to keep in mind that EM-1 is the first in a broad series of exploration missions that will eventually take humans to deep space. It is designed to be a flight test of our entire system -- one that is challenging in itself and will offer the opportunity to better understand our capabilities and limitations.  We’re building a flexible, reusable and sustainable capability and infrastructure that will last multiple decades and support missions of increasing complexity. We’re creating an incredible capability for this country – one from which future generations will continue to benefit -- and we need to get it right now for the long term.
 
NASA is reviewing the production schedules across the enterprise, projected delivery of the European Service Module, first time production issues related to the Core Stage that is at the leading edge of new manufacturing, and the ongoing impact of the February tornado that directly affected the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. All of these factors are expected to result in a revised launch date for the EM-1 mission in 2019.  NASA will execute its normal process to determine an official revised launch date for EM-1.
 
The development progress for both Orion and SLS is challenging but going well. Flight hardware for SLS and Orion is currently in production for both the first and second missions. Life support and related technologies are being tested aboard the International Space Station now, and deep space habitation and propulsion system development activities also are underway. Currently, the SLS engine section structural test hardware is being shipped via barge to the Marshall Space Flight Center for testing.  The Orion abort attitude control system was tested in Maryland, and Orion’s heat shield is being fabricated and will be installed in a few months. All European systems for the Orion service module have been integrated into the Orion testing laboratory near Denver. Meanwhile, ground systems and software continue development at the Kennedy Space Center.
 
We are keeping each part of the enterprise – Orion, SLS, and ground systems – moving at their best possible speed toward the first integrated test mission. While components for EM-1 are being delivered, our contractors can turn to the next phase of their work, the first crewed flight test with SLS and Orion, known as Exploration Mission-2.
 
We are building both systems and supporting infrastructure to ensure a sustained cadence of missions beginning with EM-1 and continuing thereafter. We will continue to work with Congress as we move toward a crewed flight test on EM-2 and, right now, we are very focused on accomplishing the EM-1 flight test.
 
Thank you for continued impressive work. We are going to deliver an amazing system that will make this country proud for decades to come.


 
Robert Lightfoot

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