NASA's Mars-Bound Rocket Booster Passes a Key Test

The heavy duty rocket is meant to one day carry humans to Mars.

June 28, 2016, 1:11 PM

— -- NASA fired up one of the rocket boosters powering the Space Launch System today, successfully completing a key test. The agency plans to use the rocket for future deep space missions, including a crewed trip to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

The booster rumbled to life this morning, breathing fire and shooting a plume of smoke at Orbital ATK's test facility in Promontory, Utah. It was the last full-scale test for the booster before an un-manned test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft planned for late 2018.

"Seeing this test today, and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA said in a statement.

While the engines used for the Space Launch System will be carrying astronauts on deep space journeys NASA has dreamed about for decades, here's the kicker: The engines are actually leftover from the space shuttle program.

NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne, the contractor for work on the RS-25, ran several tests on the rocket engines last year, focusing on testing the controller "brain" of the engines and to test out different operating conditions, according to NASA.

Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA plan to continue working together at the Stennis Space Center to carry out further engine tests, NASA said. The first flight for the Space Launch System is expected to happen no later than November 2018.

Fired up! Miss today's booster test for @NASA_SLS, the world’s most powerful rocket? Watch it now:#JourneyToMars

— NASA (@NASA) June 28, 2016

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