When presidential transition officials recently reviewed NASA’s existing plans for using its Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, they were not particularly impressed with the agency’s stretched-out timelines. Under NASA’s current plan, an initial crewed launch of the new vehicles was unlikely to occur before 2021, and independent analyses pegged 2023 as a more realistic target. That would put the first crewed flight into deep space beyond the first term of President Trump.
In response to these concerns, top-level NASA managers have been considering the possibility of launching crew on the maiden flight of the Space Launch System, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), instead of making an uncrewed test flight of the rocket as presently planned. Although this would delay the initial launch of the SLS rocket from 2018 to at least 2019 or 2020, it would also add more sizzle by bringing crew to the mix.
With such a mission, astronauts would likely fly around the Moon as happened with the historic Apollo 8 flight in 1968. As one senior NASA manager recently explained to Ars, imagine the message NASA could send if, on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landings in 1969, it was once again sending humans back into deep space with its new rocket and spacecraft. NASA would seem to be fulfilling its promise to America of getting back into the business of exploring deep space with humans.
Source: A bolder, risk-taking NASA? Agency looking at Orion crew launch in 2019 | Ars Technica