Washington – NASA presented on Wednesday the new space launch system with which it wants to reestablish itself at the head of space exploration and achieve new goals such as the first crewed journey to an asteroid and the long-yearned-for trip to Mars.
The dates are not too far off, given that according to the plan presented by President Barack Obama last year the government forecasts that the United States will reach an asteroid with a crewed space vehicle by 2025 and sent the first such mission to the Red Planet in 2030.
With the new Space Launch System, expected to be the most powerful rocket to date, the country is one step closer to those goals, said NASA director Charles Bolden.
The SLS, he said, will "create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world."
"President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big, and that's exactly what we are doing at NASA," Bolden said.
The decision brings to an end months of debate over how NASA could obtain a launch system that is not only powerful but also versatile and which would continue to be adaptable using new technologies for emerging needs.
The rocket is designed to transport astronauts in an attached Orion capsule - along with large quantities of cargo, equipment and experiments - into earth orbit and other more distant destinations, and it will serve to support commercial space vehicles that will make cargo and astronaut replacement flights to the International Space Station.
The rocket will use liquid hydrogen and oxygen as its fuel and NASA plans to begin launch tests in 2017.
After the cancellation of the Constellation program and the withdrawal of the space shuttle fleet from service in July, NASA was left without its own launch vehicle, but this new heavy cargo rocket will be the "key" for carrying out the plan set forth by Obama and Congress under the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, Bolden said.
The project will cost an estimated $18 billion in its first phase, some $3 billion annually up until 2017, according to press conference remarks by Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
The rocket will be difficult to build, but once it is completed, "we'll have a capability to go beyond low-Earth orbit like no other nation does here on Earth," Gerstenmaier said.