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NASA’s big, tardy rocket isn’t doomed — but it sure seems kinda doomed

When the NASA space shuttle program ended pretty much a decade ago last week (the final mission was on July 21, 2011), it was hard to think about what would come next, especially if you grew up with the inspiring NASA live footage of the shuttle going to and returning to Earth.

Would a private company make rockets and sell their services to NASA? That kind of thinking might’ve seemed dangerous a decade ago, trusting a privately owned company with the lofty purposes of NASA.

And yet, NASA’s major rocket system to send humans and space science back into the great unknown may be doomed. The Space Launch System, or SLS for short, “would be the most powerful rocket we've ever built,” NASA has proclaimed. The problem is that it’s getting more expensive and further behind schedule.

Meanwhile, companies like SpaceX are getting results with engineering and developing their own rockets.

So, if you’re NASA, you don’t pause the mission progress to wait for your own tardy rocket. You contract with SpaceX. And that could maybe spell doom for SLS. It’s our lead story today. Keep scrolling to read more about it in a story from the new guy, Jon Kelvey.

I’m Nick Lucchesi, editor-in-chief at Inverse. Before we jump in, I want to point you to Gawker, which relaunched this week under editor-in-chief Leah Finnegan. You can read Leah’s welcome letter here.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Thursday, July 29, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

The Falcon Heavy, a rocket system developed by SpaceX, is getting the nod above NASA’s own project, the Space Launch System.

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Tricky rocket politics Jon Kelvey reports on how NASA has selected the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the Europa Clipper in 2024 — putting the future of NASA's own flagship rocket into question:

Exploring this watery world is one of NASA’s top priorities for the next decade. That’s why the agency is pouring so much effort into a mission to explore the Jupiter moon’s oceans — the Europa Clipper — which will launch in October 2024.

But earlier this month, NASA announced it is altering the mission in one critical way. The Clipper will launch SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, and not atop NASA’s flagship launch vehicle, the Space Launch System.

The decision raises new questions about the future of the Space Launch System, which NASA continues to say is a cornerstone of its Artemis program to return humans to the Moon by 2024. It also tells us a lot about the symbiotic relationship between Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the agency.

Read the full story.

How we got here:

What could go wrong?

Flagler County Sheriff's Office

Florida, man Sarah Wells reports that Florida man washed ashore this past week after attempting to walk on water to New York. But while he failed, others have succeeded at this impossible task:

When not at the helm of an inflatable hamster wheel, Reza Baluchi is an ultramarathoner and activist who is on a mission to run over 85,000 miles — across land and water — and raise money for charities supporting causes like children’s hospitals and services for the homeless.

He also told Fox 35 Orlando that he’s raising money for “the Coast Guard ... the police department ... [and] the fire department.”

Apart from these proposed donations, Baluchi also says on his website that he hopes his journey helps inspire unity and peace in the places he visits and that the water leg of his journey, in particular, will show “the world that anything is possible if only you believe.”

Read the full story.

More from innovation reporting by Sarah Wells:

Here’s Jordan in a GIF that’s sped up to reduce file size. Sorry, Jordan.

Hands-free driving is coming to GMC Jordan Golson reports on the hands-free Super Cruise coming to the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado for 2022. Here’s a snippet of his test-track dispatch:

I drove a prototype GMC Sierra pickup truck with Super Cruise on GM’s test track going 70 mph, but my hands weren’t on the wheel.

To pull this off, the car matches its view of the world with a previous lidar scan to determine its current location. Then it maintains speed and lane position without any input from the driver.

Read the full story and check out the photos of our intrepid writer.

More transport headlines:


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The most damaging myth Elana Spivack reports on new research that finds higher testosterone levels in males correlate with higher socioeconomic status, but there is little evidence to suggest the former actually causes the latter to be true:

Testosterone occurs naturally in everyone, but the hormone is most strongly associated with males. In many ways, this cultural connection makes some biological sense. Males typically produce much more testosterone than females do. And testosterone plays a starring role in male bodies, including fertility, fat distribution, and red blood cell production.

But there is another trait — one not to do so much with biology — that seems to come hand in hand with high testosterone levels in males: higher socioeconomic standing.

Read the full story.

Go deeper:

Actor and writer Wil Wheaton marks a birthday today.

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  • Before we go: Wil Wheaton (49; pictured above), Stephen Dorff (48), Josh Radnor (47), Alice Dellal (34), Scott Steiner (59) were all born on this day. (Source: AP.)
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