NASA has unveiled plan for a new "monster" rocket designed to carry humans well beyond low-Earth orbit, to asteroids and even Mars.
More than 30 stories tall, the Space Launch System will be the "largest, most powerful rocket built," NASA's exploration and operations chief, William Gerstenmaier said.
And while it resembles the rockets of the pre-shuttle era, the rocket will be 20 percent more powerful the Saturn V that propelled Apollo astronauts to the moon, the AP quotes Gerstenmaier as saying. The heavy-lift rocket will have the horsepower of 208,000 Corvette engines.
The first mission for the so-called Space Launch System is set for launch in 2017, with a nearby asteroid planned for around 2025 and a mission to Mars in the 2030s, the ABC reports.
Astronauts will travel in an Orion crew vehicle on top of the rocket, along with cargo, equipment, and science experiments, PC Magazine cites NASA as saying.
The Space Launch System reportedly borrows technology from the liquid rockets used in the Apollo missions to the moon four decades ago, and — in a cost-saving measure — from the retired space shuttle program.
For instance, the first stage of the new launcher will use the shuttle's cryogenic engine fuelled with a mix of hydrogen and oxygen kept at very low temperatures, John Logsdon, the former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told AFP.
The $35 billion project — which includes $10 billion for the rocket, $6 billion for the capsule and $2 billion for the launch site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida — may still "not fly with Congress," however, warns the AP.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, sought to justify the cost in a statement reported by PC Magazine:
"This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world. While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle, kids today can now dream of one day walking on Mars."