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Thursday, September 20, 2012

New SLS video

New video update for NASA's new Space Launch System.

So, for those folk who are just tuning in, a quick recap. NASA is in the process of building the largest and most powerful rocket of all time, which will take human explorers deeper into space than has ever been previously attempted. SLS will take humans to the nearest asteroids, possibly back to the moon, and eventually to Mars. It will be fully flight-ready by 2021, its first uncrewed test flight is scheduled for 2017.

Oh, and NASA is doing all of this with no budget, cannibalizing spare parts from the space shuttles, the Saturn V and the Orion space capsule which was already being designed for the Constellation project, before it got the budgetary axe.

Yes, Virginia, NASA is going to Mars on a rocket built out of bench-spares. More significant is the fact that nearly two years into this project, and nobody outside of the space industry and folks who follow space blogs like this one have any idea that this is happening.

On the one hand, good on NASA for not wasting lots of taxpayer dollars on advertising. But, really? Look at this video. It's not bad. It's fairly informative, even. But it looks like a low-budget shareholder's promo for some second-tier airplane manufacturer. If NASA were churning out videos like this every month or so it would be less surprising, but I think this is the first SLS promo since the original one back in early 2011.

It's not just that the general public isn't enthusiastic about SLS, if they're even aware of it. NASA itself seems pretty luke-warm on the project. This is understandable, it was foisted upon them by a congress who not only didn't have any answers, didn't even comprehend the questions being asked them. And even if they come in on time and under budget (which, so far, seems quite possible), Elon Musk and SpaceX, with the help of NASA subsidies, will probably land humans on Mars before SLS can. So I can understand why NASA might not be pouring their hearts and souls into this project.

But, in spite of all this, I think SLS will be a pretty good platform, at a pretty good price, and I think it will be a real work-horse for inner solar system exploration. The aircraft company who always dreamed of designing the Concorde is instead building a Boeing 737. Of the two, the 737 was arguably the better aircraft, but it was far less sexy. The SLS is about as un-sexy as a spacecraft could possibly be. But it's going to get the job done, better than much of its competition.

NASA, be proud of the work you're doing with SLS. You have a good, solid, robust platform here which will take us to Mars, and possibly beyond. That's not a small thing.

It ain't love. But it ain't bad.

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