NASA’s new rocket will aim for Mars

NASA today unveiled the new rocket that will send men back into space including missions to Mars. The agency says it will press ahead with a new heavy launcher that will replace the retired space shuttle.

Artist's impression of the SLS rocket launching
Artist's impression of the SLS rocket launching (NASA)

Called the Space Launch System, it looks more like the Saturn V rockets that fired crews off on the Apollo missions to the Moon in the late 60s and early 70s. An Apollo-style capsule called Orion, holding the astronauts, will sit on top of a towering main rocket which, like the Shuttle’s main fuel tank has two similar solid rocket boosters attached.

NASA say the new assembly is likely first to carry humans and cargo back into Earth orbit, such as to the International Space Station, ending their reliance on Russian Soyuz craft. Later missions will fly astronauts on trips around the Moon, then deeper into space to visit asteroids and eventually Mars. The SLS rocket will use technology from shuttle development as well as the abandoned Constellation programme of President Bush. NASA launched just one of a thinner rocket called Ares I in October 2009 before that was cancelled. It had been planned to use Ares 1 for crews and a separate heavy-duty rocket, Ares V, for cargo, but that was never built.

SLS, which will use a will be powered by a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, will be used for crews and cargo. Its first flight is expected to happen in late 2017.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut himself, said: “This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world.

“President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that’s exactly what we are doing at NASA. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, kids today can now dream of one day walking on Mars.”

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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