Rockets headed for outer space aren’t supposed to explode into a million lil’ gnarly bits. But an exception to that rule is the nozzle plug on the booster for NASA ‘s upcoming Space Launch System. The agency just released a slow-motion video of its June 28 SLS booster test qualification test, and it’s the coolest rocket booster footage since Orbital ATK’s HDR blastoff.

The plug was there to protect the booster’s interior from external elements — heat, dust, moisture. It would be one thing if it was simply a disposable element which, once exploded, had served its purpose. The truly bananas part is that the fragments were numbered ahead of time so they could be retrieved, reassembled, and used again. NASA says pieces were found as far as 2,000 feet away.

The SLS, which is what will power the upcoming manned Mars missions, is the most powerful rocket in existence. The booster alone is 177 feet high, and the June 28 test in Promontory, Utah, was so powerful it turned sand in the surrounding area to glass. The test itself — the last one before the first uncrewed Orion mission in 2018 — lasted two minutes and was successful by every metric we know of so far, showing that the booster functioned efficiently despite temperature extremes.

Fortunately, this was on purpose.
Fortunately, this was on purpose.

This means the SLS is still on track for its first unmanned 2018 mission, which will send it around the moon — deeper into space than any human has ever traveled — and see it return just off the coast of California three weeks later.

The pieces were later reassembled.
The pieces were later reassembled.

In a September 19 press release, NASA stated that a barge would soon transport the rocket’s core stage to the Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. There, it will undergo a “green run,” the term for assembling the separate engine components together for the first time and testing the system as a cohesive unit.

All set for 2018.
All set for 2018.

Once the unmanned Mars missions are underway, NASA believes it can get astronauts to the planet within just another decade or so. After that, anything is possible — including a permanent colony on the red planet.

Photos via NASA