One of the leading rationales for increasing NASA’s budget, such as the proposed $1-billion increase the Senate approved earlier this month, has been to try and shorten the gap in US government human spaceflight access between the end of the shuttle program and the beginning of Orion flights. Earlier this year NASA administrator Mike Griffin said that the year-long continuing resolution that funded NASA in FY07 at FY06 levels created a six-month delay in Orion, pushing its introduction to service to as late as early 2015. Want to shorten the gap? Then increase funding for Ares 1 and Orion.
Or not. Florida Today reported Tuesday that NASA is planning on the first manned Orion flight in September 2013, with the ISS as the mission’s destination, although the first “operational” flight (however that’s defined) would still not be until 2015, after two more manned test flights. The article’s tone suggests that this is a change from previous plans, but that’s not entirely clear; also uncertain is the level of funding required to make this happen (such as whether this has factored in the extra billion dollars or if, as noted near the end of the article, it’s based on existing, relatively flat budget projections.)