But one thing was certain: on Orion’s first foray beyond Earth, a crew-less capsule would complete a six-day circuit of the moon; that’s the mission Bridenstine now says could launch atop a commercial rocket.
The big takeaway: If NASA can send Orion to space on the backs of private rockets, it’s likely that future crewed missions, which were slated for SLS, can as well.
However, Bridenstine stressed that the SLS is still needed for the future of the Orion program and NASA’s deep space ambitions.
The administration also expressed that NASA’s upcoming mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is slated for 2023, should launch on a commercial rocket—a reversal of a 2015 Congressional mandate that said it must fly on SLS.
But if NASA can launch the necessary Gateway components, including Orion, on commercial rockets, the case for SLS is getting increasingly threadbare.