On March 14, 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent this message to NASA employees and contractors:
Yesterday, I was asked by Congress about the schedule slip of the Space Launch System and plans to get NASA back on track. I mentioned that we are exploring the possibility of launching Orion and the European Service Module to low-Earth orbit on an existing heavy-lift rocket, then using a boost from another existing vehicle for Trans Lunar Injection. Our goal would be to test Orion in lunar orbit in 2020 and free up the first SLS for the launch of habitation or other hardware in 2021. This would get us back on schedule for a crewed lunar orbital mission in 2022 with the added bonus of a lunar destination for our astronauts.
We are studying this approach to accelerate our lunar efforts. The review will take no longer than two weeks and the results will be made available. Please know that NASA is committed to building and flying the SLS for the following reasons:
- Launching two heavy-lift rockets to get Orion to the Moon is not optimum or sustainable.
- Docking crewed vehicles in Earth orbit to get to the Moon adds complexity and risk that is undesirable.
- SLS mitigates these challenges and allows crew and payloads to get to the Moon, and eventually to Mars, safer and more efficiently than any temporary solution used to get back on track.
I believe in the strength of our workforce and our ability to utilize every tool available to achieve our objectives. Our goal is to get to the Moon sustainably and on to Mars. With your focused efforts, and unmatched talent, the possibility of achieving this objective is real.