Donald Trump recently signed a bill supporting NASA’s scientists, engineers, and astronauts in the pursuit of space exploration, and space science and technology. The Bill S.422, popularly known as National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017 allows appropriations to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for human spaceflight and exploration, safety, mission services, aeronautics. Apart from this, it also permits NASA to pursue a research program for the expansion of knowledge that will benefit the nation.

Unmanned launch

space launch system rocket and Orion space capsule Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1 evaluated the potential of putting the crew aboard since February. EM-1 is capable of launching crew onboard, but after assessing the cost, risk and technical factors in a project of this scale, it would seem difficult to add crew in the mission. EM-1 without the crew is still the best approach to allow more thorough testing, closer to the edge of the capabilities of the spacecraft, as NASA evaluated.

The $24 billion budget for the launch will need additional $600 million to $900 million if astronauts are to be added to the mix, and would probably delay the liftoff until the first half of 2020. Exploration Mission-1, set for an unmanned launch in 2019, is the first in a comprehensive series of exploration missions designed to take humans deeper into space on a three-week journey, and eventually to the red planet, Mars.

The mission was originally scheduled to take off November 2018, but a tornado ruined those plans when it hit the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana in February. The devastating tornado damaged some of the rocket's roof and equipment.

NASA is currently conducting extra tests of the heat shield. In addition, it is advancing the ascent abort test for the Orion launch to advance the systems’ knowledge and the robustness of the overall plan to send humans into deep space, explained William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Support from the government

NASA is grateful for the support of the Congress and the President to back up their effort in sending astronauts into the solar system. The agency will continue to work with the Congress and Administration as they develop the system to accommodate a crewed flight test on EM-2. At present, they are very focused on accomplishing the EM-1 flight test now, says NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot Jr.

NASA's denial of the president's appeal for crew onboard does not mean they do not plan to send astronauts beyond the moon, as Exploration Mission-2 intends to do that. The crewed flight test of EM-2 is currently scheduled for August 2021.