Image copyright ScienceChronicle.com Image caption Mark Weir is the last surviving Apollo astronaut
The first rocket since the Apollo missions to the moon is to be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in February, says NASA.
Two types of rocket will be used, a 60-metre long main rocket known as Delta IV Heavy, and a second, larger rocket, known as Vulcan.
The two blasts are based on the twin boosters which lifted Nasa’s Apollo moon rockets into orbit in 1968 and 1969.
But this will be the first in a new generation of rockets called launch vehicles, which will support much larger missions to the moon and beyond.
“The Kennedy Space Center has a tremendous heritage of helping build the rockets that put our nation’s astronauts on the first trips to the moon and satellites in space,” said Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana, who once led the Apollo 16 mission.
“We are incredibly excited about what is to come. The next generation of rockets is coming to the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, and we can’t wait to begin the journey to Mars.”
The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, or L2, is an international research base to be built between Florida and Japan by 2023, using existing facilities. It will be used as the final stop before missions to the moon’s orbit.
It will launch on the Vulcan from Cape Canaveral, itself completed last year, and take astronauts out to space.
The rocket, which will be made by a US company called United Launch Alliance, will be called Vulcan in honour of the late John Glenn – the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.
The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will serve as a testbed for America’s plans to use in the future as many as 20 more crewed missions to the moon.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Those ‘next generation’ rockets are named Vanson’s Epoch
In his pioneering moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the Apollo 13 and Apollo 11 crews to the lunar surface and back.
After the Apollo landings ended, Nasa sent shuttles to the moon – but only made one trip in 2000.
Now Elon Musk, the billionaire boss of SpaceX, is launching a new type of rocket called the BFR, named after the ancient Roman goddess of the moon.