A scrambled SLS/Orion flight schedule

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

It ain’t gonna happen: In trying to figure out what to do with SLS/Orion, NASA has admitted that the earliest any crew mission to an asteroid can occur is now 2024.

I could quote from the article, but then I’d have to quote the entire article and comment on the absurdity of practically every sentence. NASA hasn’t the faintest idea what to do with SLS, it isn’t designed to do much of anything, and it doesn’t have the funding to anything even if they knew what they wanted to do with it. Hence, the constant scheduling rearrangements, all designed to push the actual manned flights farther and farther into the future.

The article does point out how NASA is now planning to fly its first crewed mission on SLS/Orion using an untested upper stage, since the rocket costs so much to launch they can’t afford to spend the money on an unmanned test flight beforehand. Meanwhile, they are demanding that SpaceX and Boeing do all kinds of unmanned test flights with their manned capsules at great cost to these companies, before allowing any astronauts on board.

As I’ve said repeatedly, this rocket is never going to fly anyone anywhere. By 2020 several private companies will be sending humans into space regularly at far less cost and with far greater capabilities. Congress will finally realize that they can spread their pork around more effectively by funding these companies instead, and they will cancel this bloated and wasteful program.



  • Sayomara

    Bob reading your article I recall that you said at some point there had been 20 something programs to replace the shuttle all of which failed to replace the shuttle. It seems NASA is just doing what NASA has done for decades the only difference after the Columbia tragedy NASA couldn’t just drop a program like Orin and just keep using the shuttle like they had done so many times before.

  • Tom Billings

    “Congress will finally realize that they can spread their pork around more effectively by funding these companies instead, and they will cancel this bloated and wasteful program.”

    I believe this misstates the source of push for SLS funds, and thus may lead to misapprehending the dynamics. That source is *not*Congress*, as a whole. Rather, it is the SLS/Orion coalition *within* Congress, composed mostly of the Alabama, Florida, Texas, and Utah Representatives and Senators.

    This coalition realizes quite well there will be no more monies than at present for NASA’s congressional overseers to disburse. Thus, if the present levels are spread over more States, their own States will get less. Their own political power, and thus their stability in office, would suffer from that.

    Their desire is to concentrate as much of NASA’s funds in their own States as they can, for as long as they can, without it costing them too much in favors from other Senators and Representatives. That is why 2 large programs are better than 20 smaller ones, to drop the cost in favors needed to get NASA’s budget passed, in spite of this concentration of funding. They are following Tip O’Niel’s doctrine that “All politics is local politics”, with a vengeance.

  • fred k

    Accurate analysis

  • fred k


    Is there a scheduled SLS pad abort and/or an inflight abort test prior to the manned launch? I don’t think so.

  • mike shupp

    For the next 2-3 years, we (and NASA) are pretty well stuck with the SLS, since Representatives and Senators of both Houses seem satisfied with it — I gather it’s seen as Congress’s very own space program, which just by definition has to be better than anything Barak Obama might want to propose, so the appeal is bipartisan.

    After Jan 2017 however we’ll be in a new world. Not that the incoming President, whether Hilary Clinton or Ted Cruz, is going to immediately discard SLS. But Ted or Hilary is likely going to be looking for a space program that accomplishes something during their time in office … and a six year old program that isn’t going to fly for another eight years isn’t apt to seem that attractive. Also, a Significant Anniversary is likely to be popping up on White House calendars — July 20, 2019.

    So what’s really certain is that we’re headed toward a major Presidential Commission that will forthrightly and boldly point to an affordable, politically inoffensive, internationally acceptable scheme for displaying US L*E*A*D*E*R*S*H*I*P with brand new slogans and banners and cost-effect justifications.

    Think of it as Augustine III. It will surely delight and amaze and stun all of us with its beauty for … several months … and Congress will want to consider it exhaustively with all its wisdom, and then the 2020 election campaign will be upon us and maybe an astronaut funeral or two to make out deliberations especially poignant.

    So nobody’s really apt to be thinking about an alternative to the SLS until mid 2021. Well … we wanted a space program we could bequeath to our grandchildren, didn’t we?

  • To answer your question, no. Not only will NASA not test that new upper stage unmanned, NASA will not do any abort tests of SLS.

    We sure are not getting much for all that money we are spending on SLS.

  • Tom,

    I think my one quoted sentence above encapsulates very well what you then say in the next three paragraphs. The political clout of the NASA porkers in Congress will become increasingly weaker with time and with the success of commercial space (more spread out and spending money in more places). By the end of this decade it will have dissolved, especially with the big publicity garnered by many different private operations. The majority in Congress, which will also likely be increasingly dominated by tea party Republicans who want to save money, will shut down SLS very eagerly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *