Parabolic Arc notes that Chris B at has tweeted that the decision to go with a crew on the first flight of the Orion-Space Launch System has been made. The Trump administration had requested from NASA an evaluation as to whether the plan is practical. The flight, if Chris is correct, would take place in 2019. Putting astronauts on the first flight of the Orion on top of the heavy lift SLS has a whole host of advantages, tangible and intangible. The gambit also carries with it some serious risks.

Flying a crew around the moon on the Orion would test a host of systems on what NASA expects to be the centerpiece of its efforts to explore deep space, to send astronauts to the moon and Mars.

Doing the flight uncrewed would test a lot of the systems needed to explore beyond low Earth orbit, but with people, NASA will prove that it can send people to cis-lunar space from the very start with profound implications going forward.

Let’s face it, the first flight beyond low Earth orbit in 47 years (provided that SpaceX doesn’t beat NASA to it) would be a psychological shot in the arm for the Space Agency which has been adrift ever since President Obama canceled the Constellation program. A successful flight might cause Congress to dole out a little more funding to make the Journey to Mars (via the moon now by all accounts) a real thing rather than a shiny object. It goes almost without saying that going around the moon will make President Trump look good going into the 2020 elections.

On the other hand, a large number of ways exist for the mission to fail, starting with the SLS blowing up on the pad or in flight or an Apollo 13-style accident that prevents the crew from coming home again. In that case, NASA and the Trump administration will appear to be reckless with the lives of American astronauts. Experience going back to the 1967 Apollo Fire tells us that awkward questions will be asked by Congress, the media, and the inevitable presidential accident commission.

If Chris B at is accurate, President Trump and his advisors have decided to take a risk, something that the space agency has been reluctant to do in the past few decades. If they bet right, the trajectory of the American civil space program will have changed for the better. If the chance goes sideways, Trump will have better be ready for the firestorm of criticism.

One strategy would be to prepare the world for the possibility of failure with a view that the risk being taken will be worth it. Then even failure will be a kind of success from the sheer daring of the attempt.