For almost a year now, NASA has been discussing plans which will eventually culminate in a return to the Moon. Initially, such plans were kept under wraps just in case NASA found itself in a budget environment that did not favor renewed space exploration. But since the 2012 election, and the re-election of President Obama, NASA publicly announced its plans, confident that the budget voted on in 2010 (which included lucrative funding for them) would continue.
And now, NASA has been unveiling the tools that will take us there and beyond in the coming years. Far from simply shooting for the Moon for the first time in decades, NASA’s plans also include manned missions to Mars, and exploratory missions which will take it out to Jupiter and the outer Solar System. And since they are thinking big, its clear some budget-friendly and powerful tools will be needed for the job.
Above, we have the latest. It’s called the JX-2, a liquid-fuel cryogenic rocket engine is the modernized version of the J-2, the engine that NASA used in the late-’60s and early-’70s to thrust humans beyond low Earth orbit. With the conclusion of the Apollo program, these babies fell into disuse. But with the upgrades made to these new versions, NASA hopes to send people back to the Moon, and a few places beyond.
Of course, there are other noted improvements in NASA’s arsenal that will also come into play. For starters, the J-2 was part of the general assembly of the Saturn V rocket, the mainstay of the space agency’s fleet at the time. In the years to come, NASA will be deploying its new Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).
The SLS is NASA’s next-generation rocket, a larger, souped-up version of the Saturn V’s that took the Apollo teams into space and men like Neil Armstrong to the Moon. According to NASA spokesmen, the SLS rocket will “incorporate technological investments” and “proven hardware” from previous space exploration programs.” Essentially, this means that projects which have been shelved and retired have been updated and incorporated to create a rocket that can do the job of sending men into deep space again.
The Orion MPCV, on the other hand, is the module that will sit atop the SLS, carrying its crew compliment and delivering them to their destination once the rocket has put them into space and disassembled itself. Announced back in September of 2011, the SLS and MPCV constitute the largest and most powerful space rocket system ever built by a space agency.
No date has been given as to when the SLS and MPCV will be sent into space, courtesy of the new JX-2 rocket engine. But NASA claims there will be a launch sometime next year. As for the Moon, well, we’re waiting on that too, but it’s clear that with Mars slated for 2030, a manned mission to the Moon is sure to happen before this decade is out.
In the meantime, check out the infographic on the new rocket system below, and keep your eyes on the skies! We’re going back, and this time, we mean to stay!