NASA's Giant Mars Rocket Simulator Tests Astronauts' Limits

NASA engineers find out what two million pounds of thrust feels like in a space suit, and creates the ultimate amusement park ride for adults.

NASA

Imagine sitting inside a space capsule atop the most powerful rocket ever built, a $10 billion job with more than two million pounds of thrust from four liquid-hydrogen engines. You’re the cherry on a cakelike assembly standing as tall as Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle.

You’re about to slingshot deeper into the heavens than any human has gone before. What might liftoff feel like as earth's most powerful vehicle slips gravity? Probably no vacation in Florida—but hopefully for the crew, it won’t be deadly.

That’s why engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston are in the process of simulating a launch in the agency’s new super rocket, designed with Boeing and modestly named Space Launch System (SLS). The tests will let crew members experience for the first time what an actual launch might be like.

The Mars rocket simulator gives astronauts a taste of lift-off

They’ll be sitting in the latest seats designed for NASA's new Orion spacecraft, which rides atop the SLS. They'll be wearing versions of the escape suits they’ll don during the first manned mission of the craft, which could happen as early as 2021. 

The key finding is to determine how the vibrations from such a potent launch vehicle might affect an astronaut's view the displays and controls. 

The SLS launch system and Orion spacecraft, ultimately, will deliver astronauts 141 million miles from Earth to Mars. For a space junkie, that's like Cinderella's coach times a million.

Want to know more about the Space Launch System?

NASA does't have video of the simulator in action, but the agency has released a cool explainer of the Space Launch System, which is worth checking out: