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- Nasa/MSFC/Handout via Reuters picFLORIDA May 12 - Nasa has delayed the first launch of its heavy-payload rocket until 2019 and decided against an idea floated by the White House to put astronauts aboard the capsule that is set to fly around the moon, the U.S. space agency said yesterday.

After the feasibility study wrapped up, NASA officials presented the results to the White House. On Friday, May 12, 2017, NASA said its 2019 test flight will fly without a crew.

Even without adding crew to EM-1, the launch date will slip into 2019, they confirmed.

SLS is being developed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and major components are being built by contractors at the Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans under Marshall's management. The official launch date will be determined in the coming weeks, NASA said.

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. NASA has an internal planning date of August 2021 for EM-2, but it will use a different upper stage than EM-1: the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) instead of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS).

EM-1 and EM-2 are the first two in a broad series of exploration missions that will take USA astronauts to deep space, and eventually to Mars. The first launch had been targeted for next year, but now won't happen until 2019 when NASA will send an unoccupied Orion capsule to the vicinity of the moon for a three-week trial run.

It would have cost a lot more money and time to add life-support systems and other human-required equipment for the test flight, said Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA's human explorations and operations.

The test flight can be more dynamic, as NASA calls it, without a crew, and the lessons learned can help advance the next mission when people finally are on board.

The agency had considered adding two astronauts to the first SLS flight in an effort to respond to the clear desire of President Donald Trump and his aides for some kind of dramatic space mission, with astronauts, that could be achieved in the first term. The agency is aiming for a sustainable program within the available resources, he said, not just a single-objective mission. "Blue Origin, it's more about the past way of doing business vs. how do we run the government more like a business", Larson said.

That excludes $9 billion spent on the mothballed Constellation lunar exploration programme, which included initial development of the Orion and a second heavy-lift rocket.Initially, the SLS rocket, which uses engines left over from the space shuttle programme and shuttle-derived solid rocket boosters, will have the capacity to put about 77 tons (70 metric tons) into an orbit about 100 miles (160 km) above Earth.

Earlier this year, SpaceX announced a bold mission to send two paying passengers on a flight around the moon in 2018.

Lightfoot was asked by reporters Friday if the White House meant that. "I'd say that new manufacturing is causing the delays that we're seeing", he said. "If you look at what we're trying to do, it's going to take really all of us, frankly, to get this done".


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