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How NASA Will Send Humans To Mars

NASA scientists are tackling a big challenge: building capsules that will take humanity to Mars.

It’s official: NASA’s Orion project, which will send humans to Mars, is a success. A test flight on Friday morning was successful; NASA’s command center called it “the most perfect flight you could ever imagine.”

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While the flight today only carried test equipment and a few props like Ernie’s “Rubber Ducky” from Sesame Street, NASA is planning to eventually place humans inside small space capsules and send them to Mars.

Of course, sending a woman or man to the red planet requires a not-insignificant amount of planning and logistics.

Orion’s next flight is planned for 2017 or 2018, will consist of robotic cargo, and take a trip around the moon and back. The first human space travelers on Orion are scheduled to depart on a 2021 test flight. NASA hasn’t shared specifics regarding what the first crewed test flight will include, but it is widely understood that it shall involve an asteroid visit.

Image: via NASA

All these far-off journeys are possible through a new piece of NASA tech called the Space Launch System (SLS).

According to the space agency, the SLS “will give the nation a safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond our current limits and open new doors of discovery from the unique vantage point of space.” The rocket, which is designed for deep space exploration, is a successor vehicle to the 1960s-era Saturn V rocket which took the human race to the moon.

During Friday’s test flight, the SLS weighed 70 tons and included a core stage rocket with booster rockets. The rocket carried a space capsule, launch abort system, and supplementary equipment.

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NASA is currently researching the best design for a space capsule to transport astronauts to Mars. You can bet that capsule will be considerably more tricked-out than the one used in today’s test flight; NASA says the system can eventually handle up to 130 tons of weight.