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Tech woes threaten NASA's Moon plan

Leaked report indicates trouble ahead

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A leaked internal report shows that NASA's ambitions to get its new moonshot spacecraft off the ground in five years may be thwarted by technical and financial issues.

The agency's publicly-announced deadline to conduct a first test launch of a manned Orion capsule is 2015, although internally it hoped to fast-track this to 2013. However, the leaked report published yesterday by NASA Watch highlights some major obstacles. These include "an $80m cost overrun this year for just one motor and a dozen different technical problems that the space agency put in the top risk zone, meaning the problems are considered severe", as AP puts it.

Current technical challenges include "software that may not be developed on time, the heat shield, a dangerous level of shaking during launch, and a hard-to-open hatch door", the report notes. It adds that "NASA's plans would shortchange astronauts' daily water needs, giving them only two liters a day when medical experts say they need at least 2.5 liters".

Doug Cooke, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration, told AP that the target date will probably be shifted. He insisted, though, that the document "reflects typical problems of a program this early in the running", and said that NASA "should still be able to meet its public commitment to test launch astronauts in the first Orion capsule by March 2015". ®

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