Technology September 15, 2011
NASA's New Mega-Rocket To Mars

If you were slightly depressed by the announcement NASA was retiring the space shuttle program (which cost the US $196 billion over 40 years), prepare to get slightly excited about the US space agency's announcement of the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful launch vehicle in the history of the world!

Bombastic language, sure, but the US space agency says its new baby is "Nasa's first exploration-class vehicle since the Saturn V took American astronauts to the moon over 40 years ago."

This guy's got longer journeys in its future, though. Manned flights are scheduled to begin in 2021, with the goal of beginning a series of yearly, Star Trek-like exploratory voyages to asteroids in 2025. Following those trips, the 320-foot-tall launch system will carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to the moon, sure, but also beyond, to Mars.

Here's an animation of what SLS will look like, once it's ready for unmanned test flights in 2017.

There's also some promising news for you explorer-types with stars in your eyes; a report from a panel led by a former shuttle astronaut was released last Wednesday that recommends NASA increase its astronaut corps. If NASA brass listen, well, get ready to boldly go where no one has gone before. (That is, unless the Russian-European space partnership we told you about a few weeks ago gets to Mars first.)

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