NASA unveils Space Launch System upper stage

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DECATUR, Ala. - We are one step closer to space!

Today in Decatur, NASA unveiled a part of the Space Launch System. The SLS is the worlds most powerful rocket that will launch astronauts into deep space.

"It's a terrific day as you can see behind me it's the first upper stage for NASA'S SLS Rocket. We're going to roll it out of here and take it to Kennedy Space Center. It will be the first integrated piece of the big rocket that will eventually take NASA astronauts beyond low Earth orbit." said SLS Program Manager John Shannon of Boeing.

The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage or ICPS will provide the thrust needed to send the Orion Spacecraft and 13 secondary payloads beyond the moon before it returns to Earth.

"This is a great example of what the engineers in north Alabama are capable of," said Shannon.

This is the first rocket capable of going into deep space since the Saturn program in the early 70's. We will have "The ability to put large masses into space," said Shannon. "To get out to the moon again with crew or cargo and eventually to go to Mars."

As for for when we could expect take off? The second stage will integrate into the entire vehicle in mid-2018. But there's more to be done after that.

"We will be waiting on getting the core stage out of our production facility in New Orleans. It will go Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and it will be test fired. Then it will go to the Cape and be made up with this nice piece of hardware and we'll have a real capability to launch crews."

NASA believes the SLS will launch crews of four astronauts in the agency's Orion Spacecraft on missions to explore multiple deep-space destinations.

"There's 40 something astronauts in cue for assignment roughly. And my position, I'm very fortunate whose technical assignment is the space launch system." Butch Wilmore has had two spaceflights in his career. He currently works on all the propulsion elements of the SLS.

"Thousands across this nation that have their prints on this vehicle." From designers, architects, engineers and much more. "So, when you see that American flag on the vehicle it means literally America across this great nation putting their all and their passion into human space flight. And that makes it special," said Wilmore.

Wilmore said this is an exciting time, as we will have the opportunity to take humans to lower Earth orbit. He says America is on a journey to Mars.

"That doesn't mean that we're launching in a specific time frame," explained Wilmore. "We hope to get to Mars by a certain time frame. You know, everybody's got their opinion as to when we can do that. But you can't make it to Mars without unless you've got robust systems just to support human life."

Wilmore said those systems potentially need to be able to support human life for 3 and a half years and the unveiling of the ICPS today is the first step to getting there.