The Martian may have been complete fiction, but NASA’s goal of sending human to Mars in the near future just became very real. On March 10, the agency successfully tested its RS-25 rocket engine, the first engine designed to take humans to deep-space destinations like Mars. The test was conducted with NASA’s next heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) for a total of 500 seconds.
Following its first flight certification test of the RS-25 rocket engine, NASA issued a statement saying “the next time rocket engine No. 2059 fires for that length of time, it will be carrying humans on their first deep-space mission in more than 45 years.” There are 16 RS-25 engines left over from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, including the one used in last week’s test. Aerojet Rocketdyne, the prime contractor for the RS-25 engine, has modified them in order to meet the needs of the SLS. After modification, the engines now operate at 109 percent thrust levels, which is an improvement from the 104 percent typically used for the space shuttle.
NASA’s Journey to Mars initiative will send 6 crew members into deep space aboard the Orion capsule. Though there are numerous financial and political obstacles that the program will likely have to overcome, NASA has already scheduled the first unmanned SLS flight using the Orion for 2018. There will also be 13 CubeSats (miniaturized satellites for space research) onboard.[TechCrunch]
Photo Credit: NASA