NASA to Announce New Human Space Transportation System Tomorrow

NASA to Announce New Human Space Transportation System Tomorrow

NASA announced today that it will hold a media teleconference tomorrow, May 24, to “discuss a major agency decision that will define the next transportation system to carry humans into deep space.”

NASA’s plan for a new crew space transportation system has been a point of contention between Congress and the Obama Administration since the President’s decision last year to rely on the commercial sector, not NASA, to build whatever systems will be used to get people to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS).

Congress grudgingly went along with the Obama plan in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act with the caveat that NASA must build a large launch vehicle capable of taking 130 tons to LEO (a “heavy lift launch vehicle” or HLLV) to enable human exploration to more distant “beyond LEO” destinations. The NASA-developed system also would serve as a backup to the commercial systems for access to LEO if they do not materialize or fail.

The Obama plan was for NASA to spend several years developing technology for an HLLV, but not to decide on a design until 2015. The language in the law directs NASA to proceed immediately on a new HLLV and many members of Congress who are deeply involved in NASA issues have been very critical that NASA is not adhering to the law. NASA Administrator Bolden has made clear that he wants to start with a less capable launch vehicle that could someday evolve into the 130 ton class vehicle Congress desires. How much mass the HLLV can launch is a critical component of planning for whatever destination lies beyond LEO for U.S. human spaceflight.

NASA submitted an interim report to Congress about its plans for the HLLV, or Space Launch System as it is called in the law, and for a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), or spacecraft, for the astronauts that the law also requires. NASA’s report was not well received primarily because it warned that none of the designs it had looked at could be developed and built on the time scale required and for the amount of money authorized by the law.

The media teleconference begins at 3:30 pm EDT. Audio will be streamed at NASA’s newsaudio website.

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