Three years after its unveiling, NASA managers have approved the development of the rocket that will carry astronauts into deep space. Called the Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy-lift rocket will be the most powerful ever built, and is designed to launch the next generation of space explorers to deep-space worlds well beyond Earth's moon.
Above: Artist concept of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Image and Caption Credit:NASA/MSFC
The SLS's maiden flight, dubbed "EM-1" is slated for November, 2018, and will catapult an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a three-week test flight beyond the Moon. That's a year later than officials had originally hoped, but was reportedly necessary to assess the technological and financial investments necessary to deliver on a spacecraft initially billed as a "safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond our current limits and opening up new discoveries from the unique vantage point of space."
"After rigorous review, we're committing today to a funding level and readiness date that will keep us on track to sending humans to Mars in the 2030s – and we're going to stand behind that commitment," said Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, at a press briefing held on Wednesday. "Our nation is embarked on an ambitious space exploration program."
"We are making excellent progress on SLS designed for missions beyond low Earth orbit," he said. "We owe it to the American taxpayers to get it right."
Personally, we can't wait to see this beast on the launchpad: