NASA successfully completed a full-scale booster test of its Space Launch System (SLS) at a site in the Utah desert on Wednesday, September 2. SLS will one day transport humans to the moon, Mars, and possibly even further into deep space.
The static test, which involved firing up the most powerful rocket booster ever built for flight, lasted a full two minutes — the same amount of time for which the rocket’s two boosters would operate during liftoff and flight during a mission.
But in a tweet, NASA said the test was “not all about power,” adding, “It’s also about the technical innovations that will help us explore the moon and beyond. Our engineers and technicians will continue to analyze the data and use it to improve future rocket boosters on future Artemis missions.”
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted congratulations to those conducting the test, adding in a statement: “Landing the first woman and the next man on the moon is just the beginning of NASA’s Artemis Program. The SLS flight support booster firing is a crucial part of sustaining missions to the moon. NASA’s goal is to take what we learn living and working on the moon and use it to send humans on the first missions to Mars.”
NASA is planning to land on the moon again by 2024. The SLS rocket is part of a set of apparatus that includes the Orion spacecraft, Lunar Gateway, and human landing system that will support NASA’s future space exploration projects.
SLS stands at 98.1 meters (322 feet), which, for context, makes it 5.2 meters (17 feet) taller than the Statue of Liberty. During the launch, the rocket will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust, “equivalent to more than 160,000 Corvette engines,” as NASA puts it. That’s 13% more than the Space Shuttle and 15% more than the mighty Saturn V, the launch vehicle used for earlier crewed missions to the moon.
Highlighting its importance, NASA notes that SLS is currently the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the moon in a single mission.
Despite the ambitious project suffering a number of delays and a spiraling budget, astronaut Christina Koch, who recently broke the record for the longest single continuous stay in space for a woman at 328 days, told Digital Trends that NASA can “absolutely” achieve its “bold goal” of returning humans to the moon by 2024.
If NASA can stick to its current plan, the first outing for SLS will be an uncrewed test flight called Artemis 1 in November 2021.
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