NASA 'Mars Rocket' Launch On Hold

Ares I-X still on ground Wednesday morning as NASA copes with fickle conditions.
NASA early Wednesday delayed the test launch of a new rocket that's designed to replace the aging space shuttle and could one day be used for missions to Mars.

The space agency said inclement conditions in the vicinity of Florida's Kennedy Space Center were behind the decision to keep the Ares I-X on the launch pad for at least 90 minutes past the scheduled 8:00 a.m. EDT launch.

"Things are pretty dynamic weather-wise," deputy mission manager Jon Cowart said on NASA TV, after the original launch time came and went with Ares I-X still on the launch pad. "We're red, only due to weather," said Coward.

Coward said NASA weather spotters indicated that the weather should clear by 10:30 a.m., providing another opportunity to get the rocket airborne before Wednesday's launch window closes at Noon.

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 planned test would 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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