NASA will launch its megarocket without astronauts, dismissing Donald Trump's hopes
The spacecraft, which has been designed to eventually send astronauts to Mars, will launch in 2019 – but White House plans to put a crew on the first flight appear have been dismissed.
The space agency’s top leaders announced their decision after reviewing a variety of costs and risks, according to reports.
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NASA’s Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said his space agency concluded – alongside White House officials – that their initial “baseline plan was best”, which would mean “leaving [the rocket] EM-1 unmanned”.
The mega-rocket represents a robust foundation for ultimately moving human presence out into the solar system, Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s human explorations and operations, said.
But it would have cost an extra £465million ($600million) to £698million ($900million) to put humans onboard, funds the space agency does not have.
As a result of other difficulties and technical challenges, the flight has been delayed until 2019, when it will travel around the Moon for a period of three weeks.
Days after assuming office in January, President Trump signed a bill directing NASA to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s.
The Trump administration ordered a NASA study into whether it is possible to fly astronauts on the debut flight of the agency's heavy-lift rocket, a mission currently planned to be unmanned and targeted to launch in late 2018.
NASA officials initially said they do not feel compelled to fly the test mission with crew aboard but were “encouraged” by the President’s request.
In a Skype call with astronauts at Nasa’s Space Station, the US President fuelled his moon-mission hopes and said: “We want to do it during my first term and at worst during my second term so we want to speed that up.”
Nasa conducts a test launch for a previous mission
Reports claim the second flight of the megarocket will have astronauts on board by 2021, but given the delay of the first flight, it is expected to be postponed too.
Justifying their decision to launch the flight unmanned, the space agency said the test flight can now be more dynamic.