There’s been a lot of speculation about what NASA will be using to follow up on the recently departed Space Shuttle (apart from paying Russia to let our astronauts bum rides into space at the cost of $63 million apiece). Well, NASA’s officially revealed their plans and they’re pretty straightforward: They’re going to make a huge goddamn rocket.
The SLS (Space Launch System) will be a heavy lift rocket designed to go to Earth orbit and beyond, setting the stage for future space exploration to the Moon, local asteroids and Mars. It’ll be topped by the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a space capsule similar in general shape to the old Apollo capsules.
The SLS (which will be flanked by solid-fuel boosters like the shuttle was) will deliver 10 to 20 percent more thrust than the old and gigantic Saturn V rockets and will be around 40 feet taller, too. Initially, it’s planned to be able to carry 77 metric tons of cargo, but will eventually carry 130 metric tons (286,000 pounds) of payload. That’s almost five times as much payload as the shuttle could carry (59,000 pounds) and hopefully without all that pesky blowing up.
While all of this is starting to make NASA sound almost relevant again, we’re not going to be see this giant phallic monstrosity anytime soon. In fact, the SLS doesn’t have it’s first test flight scheduled until way the heck out in 2017 (The Orion capsule will start unmanned testing a bit earlier: 2013).
Looks like our astronauts will just have to keep hitchhiking for a while longer.