An Even-Greater Giant Leap

NASA unveiled plans for its next-generation manned launch system that would be capable of propelling humans into deep space to explore Mars and the expanse beyond. Dubbed Space Launch System, the prototype launch vehicle would be the largest and most powerful ever built, according to the agency. Its combined liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rocket engines and twin solid rocket boosters are expected to generate 10 percent more thrust than Apollo’s Saturn V—a combined 8.4 million pounds at lift-off. NASA plans to incorporate systems developed for other programs, such as the space shuttle’s RS-25D/E engine and similar solid-fuel boosters to cut cost. The agency said it’s eager to begin development before inflation dents its fixed budget. Initially capable of a 70 metric-ton payload, the expandable system could eventually launch upward of 130 metric tons, optimized for specific manned or cargo missions as needed. NASA is aiming for an initial test launch by 2017. (NASA release)