Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space mission. Image credit: NASA/MSFC

NASA achieved a significant milestone Wednesday when its new Space Launch System completed a two-minute test fire that NASA says will eventually help it fly astronauts to Mars. The test of the rocket motor at Orbital ATK's Utah test facility in Utah was a key step toward qualifying the rocket ready to fly. At 11:30 a.m. a burst of fire gushed from the 177-feet long rocket with a thunderous roar.

With the booster lying on its side, the rocket, operating at about 3.6 million pounds of thrust, or 22 million horsepower, set off huge plumes of smoke, and officials said that it appeared to go off flawlessly.

"I am very happy," Alex Priskos, manager of NASA's SLS Boosters Office, said on NASA TV. "Great test. Just a fantastic result. ... This thing was about as perfect ... as it could be."

NASA's new Space Launch System completed a two-minute test fire that the agency says will eventually help it fly astronauts to Mars. The test of the rocket motor at Orbital ATK's Utah test facility in Utah was a key step toward qualifying the rocket ready to fly. (NASA)

The test follows a successful launch late last year of the Orion spacecraft, which flew further than any vehicle designed for humans had gone in more than 40 years. Ultimately, NASA plans to use the SLS to launch Orion to an asteroid, and, it hopes, eventually to Mars.

After its first test flight in 2018 — originally planned for 2017 but delayed because of funding issues — SLS is then expected to perform its first manned flight in 2021.

But after that flight, “future mission destinations remain uncertain,” the Government Accountability Office has said.

NASA plans one more test next year, and was clearly pleased with the way this one went.