Thursday, April 07, 2011

Huge Private Rocket Could Send Astronauts to the Moon or Mars

A massive new private rocket envisioned by the commercial spaceflight company SpaceX could do more than just ferry big satellites and spacecraft into orbit. It could even help return astronauts to the moon, the rocket's builder says.

SpaceX announced plans to build the huge rocket, called the Falcon Heavy, yesterday (April 5). To make the new booster, SpaceX will upgrade its Falcon 9 rockets with twin strap-on boosters and other systems to make them capable of launching larger payloads into space than any other rocket operating today.

But the Falcon Heavy's increased power could also be put toward traveling beyond low-Earth orbit and out into the solar system, said SpaceX's founder and CEO Elon Musk during a Tuesday press conference
"It certainly opens up a wide range of possibilities, such as returning to the moon and conceivably going to Mars," Musk said.

Traveling that far requires more lift than most rockets flying today, including NASA's space shuttle. But the Falcon Heavy, which is designed to generate 3.8 million pounds (1,700 metric tons) of thrust, would be able to do the job, Musk said.

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