NASA delays first Orion manned flight two more years

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Surprise, surprise! NASA today announced that the first manned flight of the Orion capsule will likely be delayed two more years to 2023.

Orion has been under development since 2006, and is expected to have cost more than $17 billion when that first mission flies in 2023. SLS, once called Constellation but with a different configuration, has been under development since 2011, and has cost about that much through today. All told, I would estimate that by the time that flight occurs in 2023 (assuming it doesn’t get delayed again) NASA will have spent more than $40 billion.

This is a joke, but a very painful one. It is going to take NASA almost two decades to get one capsule off the ground. Compare that with the 1960s space race, where we went from nothing to landing on the Moon in a little more than eleven years.

If NASA had been spending this money on planetary missions, they might actually have been doing something worthwhile with it. Meanwhile, the private companies, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, Orbital ATK, are building capsules and rockets that are as capable, if not more so, and are getting them built now for less than a quarter that price, in the range of about $6 to $8 billion.

If our elected officials in Congress had any brains, they would shut Orion/SLS down now, and save the taxpayers an awful lot of money.


  • Juan

    I am not surprised, just saddened. It is so disheartening to see a once proud organization turned into just another government bureaucracy. I am not old enough to have seen the Saturn V’s fly and part of me wants this to keep going just so I and my children can see the power of the monster rocket fly, but ultimately, you are right. This is a dead end and needs to be shutdown sooner rather than later.

  • Tom Billings

    Juan, I *did* see the Saturn V fly, and yes, it was awesome, and no, we have no need to repeat it. Spaceflight as entertainment, or even as global propaganda in a World War, as Apollo was, is a duplicitous drug, that NASA Center politicians and even some Space Advocates are addicted to. It gives them both the spectacle of “the roar” at launch and the votes in States where NASA Centers are located. It fails everywhere else.

    It leaves space settlement dead in the water. If you are not doing human spaceflight to advance the settlement of the Solar System, do something else with the money. Since no voting majority is interested in settling the Solar System, private groups must do so on their own. I still hold out some small hope that NASA will be allowed to contribute technology development to that settlement. I have not had hope for 40 years that politicians will allow them to actually participate.

    The worst threat, besides the exemplary waste of public funds, that the SLS/Orion coalition poses, is their continuing need to break the New Space companies to their yoke. Last year’s demands for Commercial Crew to move to “normal” Cost + contracting is not going to be the last attempt. Without their usual levers over space industry actors, pols cannot sell the ability to influence subcontractor choices, much less get direct donations. Within the next 5 years, especially if SLS is finally cancelled, I expect they will realize they are “losing control”, and try something gauchely stupid to regain it.

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