NASA and its commercial partners say they’re studying the possibility of sending astronauts beyond the moon years earlier than planned, by putting a crew on the first flight of the space agency’s heavy-lift Space Launch System.
The NASA study, sparked in part by a desire for the Trump administration to do something dramatic in space during its first term, would consider whether such a flight could occur in 2019 or 2020.
The current plan calls for an uncrewed test flight of the SLS and NASA’s Orion capsule in late 2018, known as Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1. That mission would followed by a crewed test flight called EM-2 in the 2021-2023 time frame.
In a statement, NASA said acting administrator Robert Lightfoot asked Bill Gerstenmaier, the agency’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, to assess whether the first crew could ride on EM-1 instead of EM-2.