The launch of theAres I-X flight test has been more than three years in the making. Ever sinceNASA began the Ares Projects in 2005, an early flight test has been planned toget early engineering and performance data for future launch vehicles. Thisflight is to be the first in a series of step-by-step tests that will prove theflight hardware before it is certified to be safe and ready to send astronautsinto space.
While the future of the program is under review, Ares I-X still serves as anextremely important step in the development and growth of the nation’s humanspaceflight program beyond Earth orbit. The lessons learned and data gatheredfrom stacking and flying a full-size launch vehicle are invaluable to the nextrocket NASA builds. Mission Manager Bob Ess called Ares I-X “the world’slargest wind tunnel test.” With over 700 sensors on board, the rocket willprovide a huge amount of data, some of it collected thousands of times everysecond, which can be used to validate the computer models NASA is using todesign the next generation of launch vehicles. It’s a sign of bigger things tocome.
The transition from the Space Shuttle was brought home visually when Atlantisrolled out to Launch Complex 39A. With the current generation of human spacevehicles on one launch pad and a test vehicle on the next, the agency islooking toward the future.