Plans for a NASA lunar rocket first in 40 years

Written by By Sveinung Sleire, CNN

Nasa plans to launch the first American lunar rocket since Apollo 17 in the next few weeks, as early as next month.

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is scheduled to take off from the Kennedy Space Center on 30 February, is a pair of boosters tethered to a modular spaceship called Orion. The craft is set to launch on top of the SLS and will make its way to the moon.

The spacecraft will take six astronauts on the first flight of the Orion.

“While the Apollo programs were about sending a person to the moon, we’re not sending someone to the moon, but providing them access to an entire solar system around us,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s director of exploration systems, said at the NASA Ares 2017 conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The spacecraft will take six astronauts on the first flight of the Orion.

The agency plans to send Orion to the moon seven times, travelling every two to three years from the launch facility.

“The first step is to go to the moon, where we could [see] the best part of Earth,” says Bridenstine.

He added that the team currently plans to send Orion to the moon in 2024. However, the goal is to send the craft on a four-to-five-year journey to Mars, where they will land and attempt to re-establish a human presence.


To get the craft up into space, NASA will send the rocket to one of the same places the US space shuttles once made their home: the International Space Station.

This would mean that the US will have an operational space station orbiting the earth for the first time since the space shuttle ended operations in 2011.

However, the space agency still faces many obstacles when it comes to sending humans to Mars.

“To get to Mars we would have to take off from Earth but we have other ways to get there,” Andrew Davenport, a space exploration fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, tells CNN.

“It’s still very, very early in the development of SLS and SLS will face a lot of challenges to make it happen.”

The International Space Station orbits the earth in low Earth orbit.

One problem is the long-term water management that has been demanded by NASA’s partners in space, the Russian and Japanese space agencies.

“Lunar missions are great for ice collection but that gets started way after,” Davenport says.

Another hurdle is budgetary. NASA’s Orion is going to rely on liquid fuel. But currently the US has no biofuel of any kind in its pipelines.

“The long-term solution for SpaceX and Boeing will be figuring out how to get the rocket and spacecraft to fuel the vehicle during flight and dock to the space station,” Davenport says.

SpaceX plans to launch its first crewed flight to the International Space Station in June.

Nasa hopes that in the long term, humanity will be able to live on Mars for around a decade.

In that sense, this mission seems like a clear way to prepare humanity for what’s possible, but it’s far from the only way, he adds.

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) sent its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station in 2012. It was used to take supplies and material for science experiments for the whole duration of the mission, which lasted about two months.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on 1 February plans to make the agency’s next huge rocket, a larger version of the SLS, operational by 2022.

The agency hopes to use the rocket to get astronauts to the moon by 2020. It plans to send the vehicle to Mars in the 2030s.

NASA’s next big launch

At this point, SpaceX’s landing on land as a rocket booster is not possible. But it would certainly be exciting.

SpaceX is already making history by landing its rocket boosters on super-suitable super-strong “swarms” of droneships to be sent into orbit.

The company recently sent the rocket onto a drone ship that’s called the “Just Read the Instructions.” But you can only see its landing burn from the room next door — an ominous sign that might suggest it didn’t perform as planned.

It’s all a far cry from NASA’s Apollo missions that required the secrecy and precision of man’s genius.

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