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10/26/2009
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NASA 'Mars Rocket' Set For Test Flight

Ares I-X will lift off from Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday—weather permitting.

NASA is set to test a new rocket that's designed to replace the aging space shuttle and could one day be used for missions to Mars.

The Ares I-X test rocket is primed and ready on a launch pad at Florida's Kennedy Space Center and is scheduled to lift off at 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday. The only thing possibly standing in its way, as of Monday afternoon at least, was Southeast Florida's notoriously changeable weather.

"During this morning's Ares I-X status briefing, the launch team reported that the vehicle is ready to go, even if the weather may not be," said NASA officials, in a statement. Tuesday's forecast for the Cape Canaveral area calls for partly cloudy skies with a chance of thunderstorms. As a result, NASA said the chance for a "no-go" Tuesday is 60%.

If the flight is scrubbed, NASA will attempt to launch the rocket on Wednesday.

The Ares rocket is slated to replace the space shuttle as NASA's primary space vehicle over the next several years. It's also intended to gird missions that will see NASA return to the moon and explore further out into space—possibly as far as mars.

For manned missions, the Ares rocket will be paired with the Orion crew capsule.

Tuesday's planned test will see Ares I-X travel at Mach 4.7—more than four times the speed of sound—to an altitude of about 150,000 feet above the Earth's surface. At 130,000 feet, the launch vehicle's first stage will separate from the second stage.

Ares is designed to return to Earth intact by virtue of a parachute system and will be retrieved from its landing spot in the Atlantic Ocean by NASA recovery crews.

NASA also plans to test the Orion launch abort system three times between 2009 and 2012. An integrated test launch of Ares-Orion is slated for 2015.

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