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Destination Red Planet: NASA’s Mars Rocket Final Test Scheduled for Tuesday

© NASAArtist's concept showing the 77-ton configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket launching into space.
Artist's concept showing the 77-ton configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket launching into space. - Sputnik International
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The test will determine how well the world’s most powerful rocket will perform at low temperatures.

Artist's concept showing the 77-ton configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket launching into space. - Sputnik International
NASA Successfully Test-Fires ‘Megarocket’ Engine
The Space Launch System, a deeply overhauled version of the Space Shuttle booster rocket, is a key factor in humanity's first mission to Mars. The first step in this journey, called Exploration Mission 1, or EM-1, will take the Orion spacecraft beyond the Moon. While this initial mission will be unmanned, the Orion is ultimately designed to accommodate a crew, making this the  farthest that a spacecraft designed for manned missions has ever traveled.

To do that, NASA is currently developing an extremely powerful rocket called Space Launch System, or SLS. It features twin five-segment solid rocket boosters, four liquid propellant engines, and a minimum of 70 metric tons of lifting power, making it the most powerful rocket in the world.

"The rocket looks a lot like the one in the museum, but that's about all that's the same: the outside," said Fred Brasfield, Orbital ATK's SLS Boosters lead, according to Wired.

The modifications include a dramatic reduction in weight and a major electronics upgrade. While the older version was "basically analog," the new one will need precise electronics to control the 3.6 million pounds of lift created by each booster.

​The qualification testing has nearly 80 different hurdles to overcome. This time, the engineers will estimate how much power the propellant can create at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The engineering team acknowledges that development of SLS cannot be rushed.

"This test is part of a deliberate buildup approach," says Mike Sarafin, EM-1 mission manager. "Until we demo, there's going to be a lot of uncertainty."

After this uncertainty is removed, the first Mars manned mission will be one step closer.

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