On Wednesday at the Stennis Space Center is Mississippi, NASA fired up one of the 16 massive rocket engines that should eventually be used to launch the agency’s planned Space Launch System. NASA’s next-generation rocket which will be the most powerful in the world upon completion.

In what was likely just a bit of an ironic coincidence, the test was conducted on the same day that Vice President Mike Pence praised the achievements of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and private aerospace — all while addressing an audience at NASA’s own Kennedy Space Center during a National Space Council meeting.

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The SLS is essentially NASA’s version of the Falcon Heavy. Each of the rocket’s RS-25 engines are the size of two F15 jet engines and yet are able to produce 8 times more thrust. This launch vehicle would be used to propel NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which could transport up to four astronauts to missions on the Moon or Mars in the future.

The rocket’s RS-25 engines, coupled with its solid rocket boosters will power the SLS at speeds of 17,500 miles per hour. That’s about 52 times faster than a dragster. And the crazy thing is that these engines have been around for quite some time.

For 30 years, a trio RS-25 engines were used to blast the famed space shuttle through the atmosphere. Now instead of just getting a spacecraft into orbit, these engines have been upgraded to be able to propel a payload well past lower Earth orbit, and into the great unknown.

NASA space shuttle lifting off
NASA space shuttle lifting off

This latest successful test is an important step into making sure the SLS’s parts are functioning properly before a test launch is conducted. Much like the Falcon Heavy, the SLS’s maiden launch has experienced a myriad delays and is now slated for sometime in 2020.

So while Pence was talking up SpaceX’s achievement, NASA was plotting it’s own leap forward and it’s looking bright.

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