NASA Succeeds in Testing Most Powerful Rocket 'It Has Ever Built'

NASA is now one step closer to sending humans to the moon -- again.

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Last Thursday, NASA successfully carried out a test of the most powerful rocket the agency claims it has ever built

The agency conducted a second test of the Space Launch System (SLS) at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, running the engines on the rocket's core stage for over eight minutes. The test was intended to simulate the amount of time it would take for the rocket to reach space from the ground. 

"The SLS is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, and during today’s test the core stage of the rocket generated more than 1.6 million pounds of thrust within seven seconds," acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a press release. "The SLS is an incredible feat of engineering and the only rocket capable of powering America’s next-generation missions that will place the first woman and the next man on the Moon."

Related: Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, NASA Team Up to Simulate Lunar Gravity

The test comes as the agency prepares to send an unmanned Orion spacecraft on a test flight around the moon. The goal is to then send humans (including the first woman) to the moon in 2024 — a feat that hasn't been achieved since Apollo 17 landed on the lunar surface in 1972. 

"Today is a great day for NASA, Stennis and this nation’s human space exploration program," Stennis Center director Richard Gilbrech said in the release. "So many people across the agency and the nation contributed to this SLS core stage, but special recognition is due to the blended team of test operators, engineers, and support personnel for an exemplary effort in conducting the test today."

NASA conducted its first hot fire test of the SLS core stage on January 16. The rocket's four RS-25 engines were fired together for approximately one minute before the test unexpectedly ended. The agency decided to conduct a second test under "a variety of operational conditions" to ensure that the engines would last long enough for the rocket to reach space. 

"This longer hot fire test provided the wealth of data we needed to ensure the SLS core stage can power every SLS rocket successfully," SLS Program manager John Honeycutt explained. "During this test, the team conducted new operations with the core stage for the first time, repeated some critical operations, and recorded test data that will help us verify the core stage is ready for the first and future SLS flights for NASA’s Artemis program."

As far as next steps are concerned, the agency will refurbish the SLS' core stage and ship it to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the parts will be reassembled with the Orion spacecraft attached, NASA said. 

According to the agency, the SLS is the only rocket that "can send Orion, astronauts and supplies to the Moon on a single mission."

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