You can do the math, you can build the spacecraft, but you still have to leave Earth. To do that, you need to break the chains of gravity, or at least slip them for awhile. We’ve fought gravity with rocket thrust — monumental explosions that took decades of engineering and science to shape and focus. Our chemically-fueled rockets have gotten men to the Moon and robots to Mars. But if we want to add another horizon to gaze across, we’ll need bigger boosts. We’ll need the biggest rocket ever built.
Yesterday, NASA reported that it completed its first successful test of the Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket booster. For two full minutes, the rocket blasted away at the Promontory, Utah test facility. 3.6 million pounds of thrust tossed dirt and dust high into the sky and flames belched from the bottom of the booster at Mach 3 (2,300 mph).
Every statistic on the SLS booster is awesome. The rocket itself weighs 1.6 million pounds. Temperatures inside the rocket during the test were about half what they are on the surface of the Sun. The booster is 177-feet long and will provide 75 percent of the thrust for future SLS missions. When all the testing is complete, the booster should be able to haul an unprecedented 130 metric tons (143 tons) of payload into space.
If we ever want to set foot on Mars, the SLS rocket is what the space program needs. Currently, we don’t have operational rockets that can carry all the cargo for the journey. In the months and years to come, the SLS rockets will hopefully propel NASA’s Orion spacecraft, and the humans hoping to be the first Martians, through the final frontier and towards the next.