Is NASA’s Space Launch System a flying piece of congressional pork or our best shot at getting humans to deep space?
From my article in the June 2015 issue of Scientific American
Deep inside a giant but little-known NASA facility, crews have for years been staging elaborately faked space missions. This is not a conspiracy theory. It is the sad tale of NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, the sprawling New Orleans complex where the space agency had for decades built its biggest rockets.
After the Space Shuttle’s last flight in 2011, Michoud’s massive hangar-like facilities were rented out to Hollywood studios, housing some of the production for Ender’s Game and other sci-fi movies. But lately a growing cadre of NASA engineers and other workers have been engaged on an important new production here—a sequel to NASA’s greatest days of human spaceflight. Michoud is back in the rocket-making business, serving as a factory for the biggest, most ambitious space vehicle ever to undergo construction: The Space Launch System, often called by its acronym, SLS.
The SLS is the rocket in which NASA hopes to thunder a crew of astronauts skyward from Cape Canaveral for roughly a year’s journey to the surface of Mars, while hauling the living quarters, vehicles and supplies they’ll need to spend at least a few weeks shuffling through the rusty dust there. That mission is still about 25 years away. But between now and then, SLS could carry people to the moon and an asteroid, and send a probe to search for life on one of Jupiter’s moons. It is an interplanetarily groundbreaking project, one of the most audacious NASA has ever undertaken.
Why, then, do so many people seem to hate it? Read more (paywalled)