I'm glad to report that the rumors of NASA's demise are wrong. NASA has been focused on the longer-term. They have been working on the spacecraft and launch vehicle that will enable deep space missions, and we will see the results of those efforts in 2014. Throughout the year we will see the first test flight of the new Orion crew exploration spacecraft, and engine and booster tests on the new Space Launch System (SLS) -- the most powerful rocket ever built. ------------------
Orion is designed for the months-long and years-long missions required to reach deep space destinations. The SLS is designed to launch crews and cargo on direct trajectories that will shorten the missions to deep space destinations. To put its power into perspective, consider that the Saturn V that carried the Apollo crews to the Moon and the Space Shuttle each generated seven million pounds of thrust. The SLS will provide 10 million pounds of thrust. Furthermore, this power will deliver 3-4 times more lift capability than all current launch vehicles.
The combination of SLS and Orion will effectively establish a highway to the entire solar system. And as the Nation assesses what destinations we should explore next, the spacecraft and rocket will continue to progress through their development tests so they are ready when those decisions are made.
In addition to the growing excitement about crewed missions to deep space, SLS is also an absolute game-changer for ambitious robotic missions to the outer planets and large unprecedented astronomical observatories. Those missions will build on the discoveries of Curiosity on Mars, the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope that will replace it in 2018, and multiple robotic missions in the years ahead.