Thanks to Boeing, Obama and NASA Get One Step Closer to Mars

Space Launch System (artist's rendering). Photo credit: Boeing. 

If you think the phrase "to boldly go where no man has gone before" only applies to Star Trek, prepare to be surprised. For $2.8 billion, Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) is building the core stage of the Space Launch System, or SLS, which is the most powerful rocket ever built. This contract could have humans exploring deep space sooner than we thought possible. Here's what you need to know.

A return to deep space
According to Boeing, the purpose of the SLS rocket is to "propel America's return to human exploration of deep space."  Further, the SLS rocket is supposed to allow people to travel beyond the moon's orbit for the first time, and could help further the goal of getting people to Mars -- of course, first it has to be tested. The first unmanned flight test is scheduled for 2017 and will provide a 77-ton capacity, while NASA hopes to have the first crewed flight test in 2021.  Plus, Boeing states that the final two-stage configuration will provide more than 143 tons of lift capability. 

The good news is that Boeing has already completed the critical design review, the last major review before full production begins, and Virginia Barnes, Boeing SLS vice president and program manager, stated, "Our teams have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the SLS – the largest ever -- will be built safely, affordably and on time."  Let's hope she's right.

More money ahead
NASA's goal is to not only to take a crew beyond the moon's orbit for the first time, but also to rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, and journey to Mars and its moon in the 2030s.  To help with this mission, NASA charged Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) with building the Orion -- a crewed exploration vehicle that's mission is to fly atop the SLS, and "provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe reentry from deep space return velocities," according to NASA.

Orion spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA.

More importantly, Orion's first flight test, called Exploration Flight Test 1, is scheduled for this December.  For the test, an unmanned Orion spacecraft will launch from Cape Canaveral atop a Delta 4 Heavy rocket. If all goes according to plan with the launch and high-speed reentry, the Orion will take a giant step toward NASA's plan to integrate Orion and the SLS,  which could prove to be even more lucrative for Boeing and Lockheed -- as NBC News reported, NASA estimates that rocket-building efforts could cost up to $18 billion through 2017, and approximately $35 billion by the time it carries astronauts past Earth's orbit. 

What to watch
It's no secret that America wants humans to reach Mars. In 2010, President Obama spoke at the Kennedy Space Center and outlined his goals of sending astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. In fact, he said, "We will finalize a [heavy-lift] rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it."  With NASA and Boeing finalizing a contract for the core stage of the SLS, America is one step closer to this goal. Moreover, for Boeing, this goal is a lucrative opportunity. In its first-quarter 2014 results, Boeing reported that its network and space systems segment revenue was $1.9 billion, a decline of 4% due to lower satellite volume.  Clearly, the recent contract win worth $2.8 billion, as well as significant future funding, is great news for Boeing's bottom line.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2014, at 2:42 PM, lvlongandprosper wrote:

    It was GW Bush that first proposed sending a manned mission to Mars during The State of the Union address, Jan. 2004

  • Report this Comment On August 21, 2014, at 1:46 AM, stevecochrane97 wrote:

    The aggravating thing is if Obama had not canceled the constellation program we would already have the Orion craft by now. As well as the Arias rocket and well on our way to building a station on the moon and getting to Mars by 2027. Fulfilling Wernher Von Braun's dream.

    But instead we have a president who is more interested in paying people on welfare to do nothing then paying people in Nasa or the military to be productive, and we are now four years behind in space exploration.

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Katie Spence

Katie Spence has been a financial journalist for The Fool since 2011. She specializes in defense companies, “green" technology, autos, and robots. Follow her on Twitter for breaking news in the defense, auto, and robot industry.

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