Ares I-X Test Flight Has Successful Launch
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A prototype of NASA's new moon rocket blasted off from Kennedy Space Center Wednesday, completing the $445 million test flight of a system that NASA is developing to replace the retiring shuttle fleet.
The 327-foot Ares I-X rocket raced off KSC's Launch Pad 39B at 11:30 a.m., taking advantage of a break in the clouds on Florida's Space Coast.
"I got tears in my eyes," KSC Director Bob Cabana said, congratulating teams in the Launch Control Center. "All the naysayers, that was just one of the most beautiful rocket launches I've ever seen."
The Ares I-X test flight is a first for NASA's Project Constellation, which is developing two Ares rockets and the Orion crew capsule for missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. The Ares rockets are expected to replace the shuttle fleet, which is due to retire after six more flights.
Wednesday's unmanned test flight lasted just two minutes, long enough for the first-stage solid-fuel booster to separate from the mock upper stage. The upper portion of the rocket - which NASA wasn't going to retrieve - reached an altitude of 28 miles before falling uncontrolled into the ocean. Parachutes guided down the first-stage for retrieval.
"The most valuable learning is through experience and observation," Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager said. "Tests such as this - from paper to flight - are vital in gaining a deeper understanding of the vehicle, from design to development."
More than 700 sensors were measuring aerodynamic stress, temperatures, vibrations and other data.
But the test flight came at a difficult time, just after a presidential panel produced a report urging President Barack Obama to cancel Ares I and develop commercial space taxis to fly astronauts to low Earth orbit.
It was unclear what, if any, impact Wednesday's apparently successful launch would have on Obama's decision about how to proceed with human spaceflight.
Wednesday's flight also was plagued by weather concerns that prompted a delay Tuesday and forced the target launch time to be reset numerous times Wednesday.