Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Space exploration fans, take heart. The shuttles are retired, but NASA hopes to have a new, mammoth launch system ready to carry astronauts and payloads into space by 2017.

Yes, maybe old Star Trek and Star Wars fans who still recall those Apollo moon missions with wonder and pride will still be alive when man walks on Mars.

Called the Space Launch System, the huge “launch vehicle,” which will stand 34 stories tall, as NASA labels it is larger and more powerful than the Saturn Vs which took astronauts to the moon.

“The Space Launch System will be NASA’s first exploration-class vehicle since the Saturn V took American astronauts to the moon over 40 years ago. With its superior lift capability, the SLS will expand our reach in the solar system and allow us to explore cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Mars and its moons and beyond. We will learn more about how the solar system formed, where Earth’ water and organics originated and how life might be sustained in places far from our Earth’s atmosphere and expand the boundaries of human exploration. These discoveries will change the way we understand ourselves, our planet, and its place in the universe,” NASA says.

Lofty words. Sky-high goals. Dreams still live.

As for understanding ourselves, maybe NASA can find something way out there that will bring clarity and intelligence to Washington and Wall Street.

“This new heavy-lift rocket-in combination with a crew capsule already under development, increased support for the commercialization of astronaut travel to low Earth orbit, an extension of activities on the International Space Station until at least 2020, and a fresh focus on new technologies-is key to implementing the plan laid out by President Obama and Congress in the bipartisan 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which the president signed last year,” NASA boasts in the announcement.

“The booster will be America’s most powerful since the Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon and will launch humans to places no one has gone before.”

Now where have we heard something like that “no one has gone before” claim in the past?

Star Trek, perhaps?

Beam us all up, Scotty.

Read NASA’s full announcement here.

Get the latest news alerts: Follow WRAL Tech Wire at Twitter.