Video: NASA engineers are currently hard at work developing Space Launch System 1 - what will be the biggest, most powerful rocket ever built. The inaugural launch of this behemoth won't happen any earlier than 2019, but NASA has released a spectacular simulation of the launch to whet our appetites.
If we're ever going to send humans and heavy equipment to Mars or further out into the Solar System, we're going to need something like SLS-1 EM-1.
At liftoff the Block 1 configuration provides for 4 million kg of thrust, which is more than 31 times the total thrust of a 747 jet. With that power, this rocket will be able to deliver 70,000kg to orbit, or about 77 one-tonne utes' worth of cargo. The system can be easily modified to accommodate cargo-only missions, or crewed journeys into space.
For safety reasons, NASA won't be sending astronauts into space during the inaugural launch, which may not happen until 2020. Once the rocket is deemed ship-shape, its Orion spacecraft will send four occupants on a roundtrip to the Moon and back. This will serve as an important trial run for the launch we're all really waiting for - our first crewed journey to Mars.