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SLS Program Manager Todd May Talks About The Future of NASA’s Biggest Rocket

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - There is no space shuttle. As of now, America has to hitch a ride with the Russians to get to the International Space Station.

However, NASA is building a new rocket to carry Americans to other worlds, if we so choose.  It's the Space Launch System, SLS for short. Todd May is the program manager for NASA's SLS.  It'll the biggest, most powerful rocket ever built. But those superlatives bring plenty of complications.

May joined WHNT News 19’s Steve Johnson for this week’s leadership perspectives. The number one question on Steve’s mind, and many others, “Are we on schedule to fly in 2017?”

"You know, we're half way today from the finish line to where we started, and today we're on track from a 2017 launch just like we said in the beginning. In terms of where we are technically, we've completed the preliminarily design, we did that last June, and one of the things we had to do was move swiftly and efficiently, and this team has done amazing things,” said May.

May added that the preliminary design has been completed almost without problem.

“We got through preliminary design in less than two years which is really a record for a launch vehicle, especially an Exploration class with a very efficient outlay of resources to get there. But we're really a lot further along than that. If you think of the rocket itself, the engine we intend to use we actually borrowed from the space shuttle program. They're already built and they're in storage today. The boosters are nearing qualification, which is normally something that happens much further into the life cycle. The core which is our critical path is less than six months," said May.

May explained that the “core” is the center of the launch vehicle, including the tankage, the brains, the backbone, the structure around which the boosters hang, and its critical design review. May said as of June this year, the core will be 90 percent completed/

This progress comes with a hefty price tag, though. When NASA budgets seem to change on a monthly basis, program managers have to ask themselves if there will be enough to go around.

"Sure, so as a program manager I would always like more money, because I can always think of more things to do and to bring on. But we're on track for 2017. Our budgets for 2014 look good with the recent appropriations. I think we're enjoying bi-partisan support in congress, and the Administration is supporting us as well calling SLS and Orion the backbone of their exploration policy. It remains to be seen, you know we've got to execute what we say we want to do, and sometimes things happen, but today I think we're on track," said May.

May already has great plans for SLS, too.

"We're currently planning to have humans on SLS, going somewhere beyond low earth orbit in 2021…Now, that's 200 miles above the earth’s surface. What we're focusing on is getting back into the exploration business, so the targets we're focusing on are things like Mars which is 50-million miles away, or Europa which is another order of magnitude beyond that. So it's a different game, a different class of ships," said May.

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