Blastoff! The Big, Bad Space Launch System Quiz

By: Staff

4 Min Quiz

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About This Quiz

On Sept. 14, 2011, NASA announced plans for the Space Launch System (SLS), the driving force behind the American space program for the foreseeable future. How much do you know about the future of American spaceflight?

When did the space shuttle fly its final mission?

July 8, 2011, marked the final flight of Atlantis and of the space shuttle program. Feb. 24, 2011, marked the last launch of Discovery, and Endeavor flew into history on May 16, 2011.


What was the name of the original successor program to the space shuttle?

The Obama administration announced in February 2010 that the Constellation program was cancelled. As sci-fi fans are aware, the original USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) on TV’s "Star Trek" was a constitution-class vessel, and the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was a galaxy-class ship.


What was the primary mission of that program?

Although Constellation's scope included missions to the International Space Station and, eventually, to Mars and beyond, it was fundamentally concerned with establishing an extended human presence on the moon.


The SLS will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built. What veteran of the space program currently holds that title?

The Saturn V, the workhorse that took America to the moon, still holds the title. The Soviet N-1 arguably had more liftoff thrust, but was canceled after four catastrophic failures during testing. The Jupiter-C was a research rocket developed under the direction of Wernher von Braun.


NASA hopes the first SLS flight will occur in what year?

The SLS is targeted for an unmanned test flight in 2017.


How much will the initial SLS weigh?

The first SLS will weigh in at 5.5 million pounds -- as much as 24 fully loaded 747s -- and kick out 8.4 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.


Which leftover parts from the space shuttle program will the initial SLS craft use?

Three RS-25 space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) and two solid rocket boosters (SRBs), both inherited from the space shuttle program, will provide the 8.4 million pounds (3.8 million kilograms) of liftoff thrust necessary to propel the first SLS into space.


What's the J-2X?

When NASA rolls out its later, more powerful version of the SLS, its upper stage will carry the J-2X, an updated version of the engine that propelled Apollo’s Saturn V rockets into history.


Which of the following choices best represents the volume of the SLS’s cargo faring?

The later version of the SLS will sport a cargo faring spacious enough to carry nine school buses, and will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty (including the pedestal).


The five-stage version of the solid rocket booster was originally developed for which program?

Although later versions of the SLS might use the five-stage version of the solid rocket booster, it was originally designed for the scrapped Constellation program.


What's the name of the vehicle in which astronauts will ride to space atop the SLS?

The SLS inherited the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) from the Constellation program, which included plans for two heavy-lifting rockets called Ares I and II. Orion is also the name of one of the most recognizable and easy-to-spot constellations in the night sky.


How much habitable space will the astronaut crew occupy in the MPCV?

The Orion crew module will squeeze 2 to 6 astronauts, with food and equipment, into 316 cubic feet of habitable space. That’s one-third more elbow room than Apollo’s crew compartment, in which three astronauts traveled back from the moon in 210 cubic feet of space.


Which part(s) of the MPCV will return to Earth?

Like its predecessor in the Apollo program, the service module will burn up upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, with only the crew module returning.


What's the purpose of the spacecraft adaptor?

The adaptor will enable the crew compartment to dock with other spacecraft, including the International Space Station.


How much is NASA expected to spend on SLS over the next six years?

According to William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, the agency will set aside $3 billion per year to the effort over the next six years for a total of $18 billion.


During launch, a small rocket sits atop the SLS’s crew vehicle. Why is it there?

The small launch-abort system rocket (LAS) is another feature borrowed from the Apollo program designs, and performs both abort and shielding functions.


What derisive nickname did critics attach to the SLS?

Critics were inspired to call the SLS the Senate Launch System after U.S. senators mandated several aspects of the spacecraft’s design -- right down to which contracts and vendors to retain.


How much does it currently cost to send American astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Russian spacecraft?

The Russians currently charge just under $56 million (1.8 billion rubles) per astronaut to fly to and from the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. In 2014, that price will increase to nearly $63 million (2 billion rubles).


How many SLS missions have been planned and funded?

Although trips to the International Space Station, the asteroid belt, the moon and even Mars have been touted, thus far no actual missions have been planned or funded for the SLS.


Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California argued for which alternative to the SLS?

Rohrabacher argues that a fuel depot would enable the Orion MPCV to fly into space sooner and more often than if the vehicle has to wait for the SLS. Advocates of the depot idea say that having fuel available in space would allow for smaller rockets, which could leave Earth’s gravity and then refuel in orbit before launching farther into space.


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