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10/29/2009
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NASA Test Fires 'Mars Rocket'

First trial of Ares I-X goes off without a hitch following series of weather delays.

NASA on Wednesday successfully test fired 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 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Southeast Florida at 11:30 a.m. EDT after a series of weather delays that kept the rocket grounded for 24 hours. The flight lasted about six minutes, after which Arex I-X's booster stage separated and splashed down into the Atlantic ocean, as planned.

NASA officials credited the trial's success to teamwork. "I can't say enough about this team," said Doug Cooke, associated administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, in a statement.

"They've been together probably a little over three years now, and they went from a concept to flying this vehicle in that period of time, which is the first time this has been done by a human space flight team in a long time," said Cooke.

Ares I-X mission manager Bob Ess said the launch was "a spectacular day" for NASA.

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.

Wednesday's test saw 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 separated 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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