Tag Archives: Ares

Ares I-X flight test launches successfully!

Unless you’re living under a rock, you probably heard that NASA launched a new rocket today.  Below are some photos from in and around the NASA Press Site and also some video of the launch that I took today.  The video also contains some decent manatee footage.  There are usually manatees hanging around the turn basin there near the Press Site.

The Ares I is intended to replace the Space Shuttle for launching astronauts into space after it retires in the next year or so.  Today’s launch, dubbed the I-X mission, was an unmanned flight test of this new rocket.  Not only was it unmanned, but the whole upper stage was fake and just dropped into the ocean after separation.  But we’re taking baby steps here, people.  Don’t want to bite off more than we can chew.  🙂

Here’s the video that I took.  Click on this link to see this video on the YouTube website where you can comment and vote on it and stuff.


And here are some photos.  Click on any photo for a full sized version.

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Obligatory photo of the countdown clock with the launch vehicle in the background.  It was 5am when I arrived at the Press Site this morning.  Way way earlier than my normal arrival time.

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Inside the NASA Press Site where they show various camera views of the launch vehicle and they also have some cool large models of the Ares I and also the future Ares V heavy lift cargo vehicle.  These models are like 7 or 8 feet tall.

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Various news channels shoot interviews all day long here at the NASA Press Site.  Here you can see the Air Force weather officer getting some time on camera with Fox 35.

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NASA TV showed some beautiful sunrise video …

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… so I went outside to see it for myself.

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Live trucks lined up in the NASA Press Site parking lot. You can see the rocket in amongst the transmission towers.

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The NASA Press Site is about 3.5 miles from the launch pad.  You can see the white rocket and the three really tall lightning towers around the launch pad.  These towers were built especially for the Ares I program.

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Here are the folks from NASA Edge recording their show.  NASA Edge is a cool and hip educational program on NASA TV. You should check it out. While you’re there, be sure to also check out NASA-360, which is another cool educational program that NASA produces.

Ares I-X test flight rolls out to the launch pad

History was made tonight and I was there. It was pretty cool to witness the rollout of the Ares I-X test flight rocket first hand. Ares I is designed to replace the Shuttle for getting astronauts into orbit. Enough talk … here are the photos that I took and also a short edited video (click for larger versions of the photos):

This is the employee signature banner for Ares I-X.  Each flight gets a banner that is displayed along with the vehicle and these banners are signed by KSC employees who have worked on that mission.  I worked on the ground control system for the Ares I-X mission, so I made sure I signed this banner.  I wonder if you can find my signature…

Can you find my signature now?

How about now?

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The Ares I-X rocket doesn’t look terribly huge inside the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, but it’s nearly as tall as the Saturn V rockets that we used to go to the moon during the Apollo program.

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Excitement is in the air as the new big rocket emerges from the VAB.

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Isn’t she big and beautiful!

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Not symmetrical by design.  We’re re-using a Shuttle mobile launcher platform for this flight, which has two holes for solid rocket booster exhaust.  So we mounted the Ares I-X rocket over one of the two SRB holes in the platform.

Glowing in the spotlights.

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The spotlights were very bat-symbol-like.  I didn’t get a good photo of it, but there was enough moisture in the air to clearly see the rocket’s silouette projected big and bold up into the sky.  It was quite impressive.

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Obligatory photo of me standing in front of the rocket for the scrapbook.

Here is the video:

Or you can watch the video directly on YouTube here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHEla1t0byQ

NASA is retiring the Space Shuttle

Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions, not official NASA statements!

For those readers who don’t follow NASA news closely, NASA publicly announced recently that the Space Shuttles are slated to be forced into retirement in 2010. This is due to many factors, some of which are listed below:

  • Space Shuttles and associated ground infrastructure are getting quite old and harder and harder to maintain and enhance.
  • Their design is fairly dangerous and we’ve lost two already and the chances of losing others increase with age.
  • The Space Shuttle system, although reusable, is a money pit. Due to budget cuts and design compromises in the 1970’s, the Space Shuttles have never lived up to the hopes and dreams of the engineers who conceived them. I believe that the costs per pound to orbit are worse than if we had stuck with “disposable” rockets.
  • President Bush in 2004 gave NASA a new direction. Enough of this low Earth orbit stuff. His Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) speech suggested that we build a new “crew exploration vehicle” to take us back to the moon, and to Mars, and even beyond.

NASA plans to spend $100 billion over the next 12 years to design, build, and launch the new spacecraft and rockets it needs to put humans back on the Moon by 2018.

For those who think we should only stick to robot exploration:
We already did the robots to the Moon thing. NASA calls this the “Exploration” program because the whole point is to get ourselves off the Earth and out exploring other planets. The NASA Exploration Program tagline for marketing purposes is “Moon, Mars, and Beyond!” Whenever you use a robot, your science is very limited, and your ability to cope with problems that crop up is almost non-existant. Using humans is risky and expensive, but the payoff can be enormous when successful.

For those asking why do we want or need to go back to the Moon:
One possibility is that we can extract precious oxygen from lunar regolith and/or from lunar ice. This act would help a moon base to be a little more self-sustainable and require less logistics missions. Scientists would like to set up large telescopes on the moon where there’s no atmosphere to look through like on Earth and no potential for decay of orbit and reentry, like we have with Hubble Space Telescope. There’s lots of other science that can be done on the Moon.
Once we’re comfortable living on the moon, we can raise our sights and try it out on Mars, and Beyond! Of course, the flights to the Moon planned for 2018 will be similar to Apollo … where we just go, do some science for a few days and then return. It will take a while longer to get into a position to actually set up a long term Moon base. I imagine it will take 2 or 3 times as long to build a Moon base as it is currently taking us to build our Space Station. And that’s been going on for quite some time now.

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The publicly released NASA image above shows a relative size comparison between the Saturn V rocket used for Apollo Moon missions, the Space Shuttle used today for low Earth orbit missions, the new Ares I rocket which will be used to send humans into low Earth orbit, and the new Ares V rocket which will be used to send large cargo into low Earth orbit and beyond.

By putting the humans and the cargo on two separate launch vehicles, NASA is hoping to make it much safer for the astronauts. A vehicle required to take a small crew capsule into space is much safer than a vehicle required to take a huge and heavy payload into space. Also, the Ares I vehicle is derived from today’s Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, which have a good history after the post-Challenger improvements. Also a single inline vehicle is safer than the piggyback configuration that we used for Shuttle.

After both crew and cargo are launched into low Earth orbit, the crew capsule will attach itself to the cargo and use rockets attached to the cargo to make the trip to the Moon. The plan is very similar to the Apollo Moon missions after that. The crew capsule actually looks a lot like the one used in Apollo, only bigger. Most of the new vehicles are expendable and the only thing that will actually re-enter and land on Earth is the crew capsule, similarly to Apollo.

The Space Shuttle was a great Engineering feat. But it was just too fragile and the overall architecture design was too costly to maintain and also very dangerous for the crew. NASA has decided that it’s not going to trade safety for reusability in it’s new space system architecture. They’re playing it safer this time around. After losing two Shuttle Orbiters along with their astronaut crews, can you blame them?

Kurt