2018 will be the first year after 1981 in which NASA plans to launch a human crew on the integrated flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. The Space Shuttle Colombia was launched back in 1981, where a crew of two people embarked on its maiden flight. After that, NASA has launched several unmanned flights or the one with animals, but this is the first manned flight in nearly three decades, making it a momentous feat.
The trip is significant as it is the first launch of the Orion and SLS in collaboration after the Orion capsule was tested on a crewless test launch in 2015. The capsule will be tested again before sending the crew, and to foolproof the safety of the launch, the SLS is using a well-tested Space Shuttle launch system hardware. This hardware coupled with the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) and new versions of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) are termed as the most powerful rockets ever!
Initially, the mission was planning to send another Orion without crew around the Moon, but the mission was updated to enter a retrograde lunar orbit similar to the future asteroid-encounter mission. The mission will gather new parameters, and while the exact number of people on the crew hasn’t been specified, it may be around six as it is the maximum capacity of the Orion.
The mission will be among the most ambitious flights in human history as it will last about three weeks with six days in the lunar orbit. People are also comparing it to the crewed translunar Apollo 8 flight back in 1968, which carried three astronauts into the lunar orbit to prepare for the Apollo 11 moon landing.
But before the EM-1 can proceed, its Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which is based on the second stage of a Delta rocket, needs to be human-rated, putting a hold on the mission since February of last year. The stage is now, the only stopgap as the final propulsion stage is developed. If the crewed mission is going to proceed with the flight in 2018, the human-rating process would need to re-commence.
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