To Infinity and Beyond

Well, maybe not infinity, but today NASA unveiled plans for a mammoth deep-space rocket to carry astronauts to the moon, Mars and other destinations beyond the International Space Station. Compared with the now-retired space shuttle, which could carry about 50,000 pounds to an orbit about 300 miles from Earth, the new booster is intended to lift as much as 140,000 pounds of cargo.

The announcement follows a year-long tussle with Congress over the project’s cost, scope and technical parameters. Now it has been given the green light.

The idea is to launch its first unmanned test flight in 2017, with the first crew flying in 2021 and astronauts heading to a nearby asteroid in 2025, the officials said. From there, NASA hopes to send the rocket and astronauts to Mars — at first just to circle, but then later landing on the Red Planet — in the 2030s.

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