The challenge with thinking about space is putting it into terms that we can understand. How far is a light-year? Just how powerful is NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System, which the agency hopes will bring astronauts out into the solar system?
Luckily for us, the comic xkcd is a regular contributor to making space understandable, and the latest comic from Randall Munroe is a gem — explaining launch vehicle capacity and spacecraft mass in terms of horses.
So now comparisons are fairly easy. At the left of the diagram, for example, you can see the Saturn V — that rocket that was the first stage of bringing astronauts to the moon in the 1960s — carried the equivalent of 262 horses. The SLS Block 2, if it is ever developed, will have a slightly larger capacity of 289 horses.
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Meanwhile, the spacecraft mass of the International Space Station is an astounding 932 horses, the total shuttle mass was 206 horses, and Apollo was 67 horses. There also are a few robotic spacecraft in there, such as Voyager, Vanguard 1, the Keyhole 3 spy satellite, and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.