Too Forward Thinking?
The shuttle program has come to a close, but NASA is most certainly not obsolete. The Obama administration revealed its new rocket design — the Space Launch System (SLS) — on Wednesday.
This rocket will be bigger (30 stories tall), better (utilizing a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel system), and more powerful (eventually able to carry as much as 130 metric tons of cargo) than the shuttle system of years past.
And it's good thing: These new vehicles will be utilized to travel past the International Space Station, past the moon, and outside of earth's orbit — alighting on an asteroid as early as 2025 and, eventually, on Mars. At least, that's the plan.
Initial flights will be propelled by unused Ares Project solid rocket boosters, but NASA will later open up the design and development of boosters to competition from private firms. These boosters, unlike the space shuttle's reusable engines, will mostly be for one-time use. Sounds expensive (Florida Sen. Bill Nelson estimated the cost at $18 billion over the next five years in Wednesday's news conference).
"This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said."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."
We're anxious to see how the Johnson Space Center figures in to these new plans.