NASA announced Wednesday that the Orion spacecraft, the next generation of the agency's signature spaceship, may not get its first crew until 2023, years after it was originally supposed to fly to the International Space Station and beyond.
Orion, designed to take man further into space with the ultimate destination of Mars on the schedule, has already been in the development stage for nearly decade, Florida Today reported.
NASA officials tried to downplay the delay in Orion's first liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center.
"I wouldn't get too worried about these schedules," Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA's human spaceflight programs, told Florida Today. "We can get to where we can have a very functional capability that's affordable, and we can continue to fly these exploration missions that will ultimately get us ready to go to Mars."
Florida Today wrote that NASA and Lockheed Martin are trying to keep an August 2021 date for the first crewed Orion flight, but space agency officials said that timeline would be difficult to keep.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House's Science, Space, and Technology committee, blamed the Obama administration for Orion's delays, according to The Washington Post.
"We must chart a compelling course for our nation's space program so that we can continue to inspire future generations of scientists, engineers, and explorers," Smith told the newspaper.
In 2014, an unmanned Orion capsule sailed into space, traveling 3,600 miles above the Earth, which was the furthest any spacecraft designed for humans had gone since the Apollo 17 moon mission in 1972.
"Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities," NASA said of the spaceship on its website.
"Orion will launch on NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System."
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a NASA statement that, despite the delays in the Orion schedule, " work to send humans out into the solar system is progressing" that will eventually "enable humanity to set foot on the Red Planet, and we are committed to building the spacecraft and other elements necessary to make this a reality," according to The Post.
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