NASA unveiled plans Wednesday for a giant-sized rocket that would become the workhorse for its human spaceflight programme for decades. When operational, the rocket would be the most powerful ever to head for space from Earth and would be able to deliver loads beyond Earth's orbit.
''We're investing in technologies to live and work in space, and it sets the stage for visiting asteroids and Mars,'' NASA administrator, Maj Gen Charles F Bolden Jr, said at a news conference in Washington.
NASA officials also said they would invest $3 billion a year in the development of the rocket, named the Space Launch System (SLS), or a total of about $18 billion over the next six years. The fully developed SLS would be capable of lifting 70 metric tons into orbit.
The first unmanned test flight is scheduled for 2017.
Currently, the largest unmanned rockets can lift about one-third that load.
The design would evolve to larger versions capable of lifting up to 130 metric tons.