Monday, October 26, 2009

NASA prepared for crucial rocket test

NASA is set to blastoff a prototype rocket on Tuesday that carries hopes of returning humans to the Moon, and for the first time to Mars, despite deep uncertainty about the program's future.

The space agency said everything is in order for Tuesday's two-minute, 30-second test of the Ares I-X rocket, a first look at the launch vehicle designed to replace NASA's aging space shuttle fleet.

It is "an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I," the space agency said.

Data will be collected from over 700 sensors spread across Ares I-X, providing a stream of information that will be scrutinised for months. But more rides on the launch than data.

It is the culmination of three years work on Constellation, a human space flight program conceived by former president George W Bush in the wake of the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster that killed all seven crew onboard.

The program includes plans to create "Orion," the space shuttle's successor that by 2017 would carry astronauts into space in a bid to return to the moon and later make a first human trip to Mars.

But an independent panel of experts threw cold water over Constellation's starry-eyed aspirations in a report to US President Barack Obama on Thursday, warning that NASA needs three billion dollars a year more to meet its goals.

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