The Most Powerful Rocket in History: NASA’s New Launch System for Deep Space Exploration

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Image: NASA/SSC
Five F1 engines are fired simultaneously during tests of the Saturn V first stage on August 25, 1967.

In the words of legendary English science-fiction writer Douglas Adams, “space is big.” To reiterate, it’s really big, and humankind has only explored a miniscule section of its reaches. We are making small strides, however. Currently, NASA plans to not only revisit the Moon but also to visit near-Earth objects like asteroids and, eventually, our neighbor Mars. Yet to do this, NASA needed to design the technology to send craft further into deep space than they’ve ever been before. The result is the most powerful rocket ever made: the NASA Space Launch System (SLS).


Image: NASA/SSC
Smoke and a burst of flame during the December 5, 2012 testing of the J-2X Powerpack, which will power the upper stage of the SLS

Getting out of low Earth orbit to reach these far-off space objects is no easy task, but of course, it has been accomplished several times in the past. The first spacecraft to reach the Moon was the crewless Luna 2 space probe, which was launched by the Soviet Union on September 12, 1959. This was followed by manned missions to the Moon, and on July 20, 1969, members of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission successfully landed on the surface of Earth’s only natural satellite.

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Image: NASA/SSC
Millions of pounds of propellant were used in a succession of 13 tests carried out on the J-2X on December 13, 2012.

After a spate of manned and unmanned visits undertaken from the mid-1960s to 1976, lunar missions suddenly ceased and our focus shifted elsewhere. Recently, however, we have begun to consider sending astronauts back to the Moon – and beyond.

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