Today, the Obama administration announced plans and concept design for a giant rocket that it hopes will someday ferry astronauts to the Mars and other deep space missions. But as of right now, no one will be rocketing up there at all for at least couple months since the Russian space agency delayed a mission that was set to take place September 22.
Roscosmos announced yesterday it was still not ready to send a rocket up to the International Space Station after a vessel crashed last month en route to the ISS with supplies. The cause of the crash was later found to be a clogged fuel line. Now, it looks like the next mission to ISS to bring new crew members and supplies is set for November 12. According to the New York Times, there are currently six crew members on the ISS, but three will return home on one of the Soyuz capsules docked there this week:
The capsules are certified to last six months in orbit. The other three crew members must leave in the remaining capsule by Nov. 19, leaving little leeway for further delays if the space station is to remain occupied. Astronauts have lived on the space station continuously for more than a decade.
Fox News has more on the implications on the delayed launch of the Russian spacecraft:
That makes the potential for an unmanned International Space Station very real -- and NASA could have seen it coming, said Christopher C. Kraft, the former director of NASA's Manned Spaceflight Center.
"You can't put your head in the sand about the fact that you're going to have failures," he told FoxNews.com. Failures are to be expected in vehicles as old as the Soyuz -- or the American shuttle for that matter, Kraft said.
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"The whole thing is a damn house of cards," Kraft told FoxNews.com. "Without the space shuttle, you leave yourself extremely vulnerable to losing the whole space station," he said.
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Astronauts have been living aboard the station, without interruption, for almost 11 years. NASA has insisted last month's accident will have no adverse influence on the International Space Station crew, because their existing supplies of food, water and oxygen are sufficient.
So, if NASA doesn't even have a reliable source for getting astronauts and supplies in and out of space at this point -- the August Russian spacecraft crash was the latest of four crashes in the past 10 months -- why is it making plans for a rocket that will go to Mars now? According to the Associated Press, NASA has plans to build one rocket per year for 15 years in the 2020s and 2030s.
The design of the new rocket -- the Space Launch System -- will be more similar to Apollo than the recently retired rockets, which were winged and reusable. Atlantis, the last space shuttle launched by NASA with the old design for example, flew 135 missions. The new rockets will most likely be one-and-done, with new ones built for every launch, due to their size, shape and heavier reliance on liquid fuel.
The two photos below show Apollo and the concept Space Launch System design.
Watch this animation of the concept Space Launch System concept:
The Associated Press reported that some of the design elements, the deadline and the requirement for such a rocket were dictated by Congress. The project will cost $35 billion.
According to Space.com, "NASA retired the space shuttle to devote its resources to sending astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, to an asteroid, back to the moon and eventually Mars."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.