NASA dreams big: Shuttle replacement to be the largest rocket ever

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By Joshua Ostrer

Ever wonder how long it will take NASA to land a man on Mars? Well it seems like NASA aims to end that wait around 2017. On Sept. 14, NASA representatives, along with several members of Congress, unveiled the U.S. Space Launch System (SLS) to the public.

The Space Launch System, labeled as “The Biggest, Most Capable Rocket Ever Built, For Entirely New Human Exploration Missions Beyond Earth’s Orbit,” does not disappoint in the statistical department. The initial SLS configuration, designed for a crew, has a lift capability two times greater than any current spacecraft.

The SLS will stand 320 feet tall (taller than the statue of liberty), weigh 5.5 million pounds (24 full 747 jets), carry 154,000 pounds into orbit (the equivalent of 12 fully grown elephants), and lifts off with more than 8.4 million pounds of thrust (producing the same horsepower as 160,000 Corvette engines). Not only does the shuttle already beat out the thrust of the famous Saturn V rocket, the most powerful rocket successfully flown to date, but that’s only the initial model.

The SLS program has already released statistics for its evolved variant, which is intended for heavy cargo transportation and trumps the Initial model in every category, standing 400 feet, having almost double its cargo space, and 10 percent more thrust.

NASA has high expectations for the SLS. The SLS’s advertised goal is to “provide for human exploration of deep space, like asteroids or Mars.”

“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, tomorrow’s explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars,” said former astronaut and NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden.

NASA claims the “monster” rocket will cost $18 billion. However, leaked documents suggest that the cost could exceed $75 billion.

“This is perhaps the biggest thing for space exploration in decades. The goal is to fly humans safely beyond low-Earth orbit and deep into outer space where we can not only survive, but one day also live,” said Senator Bill Nelson, Chairman of the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee.

Despite the high hopes for the SLS shuttle, there are worries amongst the space-community. Some individuals worry that the timeline for the shuttle is too conservative, and risks cancellation due to wasted time, while others object to the use of HLV (Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle) technology, a retroactive, highly polluting system of propulsion, considered only being in use due to cost-saving measures.

The SLS program is also expected to introduce new jobs. According to Bolden, “This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world,”

In the effort to push the SLS program forward, Captain Cernan, the Apollo 17 Commander, visited Congress, encouraging them to use the program to represent America. “Now is the time to be bold, innovative and wise in how we invest in the future of America,” he said. “Now is the time to re-establish our nation’s commitment to excellence.”

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