NASA Scrubs 'Mars Rocket' Flight

Oct 27, 2009 (08:10 AM EDT)

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NASA on Tuesday canceled 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.

"Tuesday's attempt was plagued by weather issues, even though the vehicle itself was ready to fly," NASA officials said, in a statement.

"After multiple attempts to reset to new launch times during the 4-hour window, the final scrub came when the weather did not improve as the end of the window neared," NASA said.

NASA said it will next attempt to launch Ares I-X on Wednesday at 8 a.m. EDT, with the launch window closing at noon. The forecast calls for thunderstorms in the Cape Canaveral area, but not until later in the day.

NASA pegged the chance of a weather-related cancellation on Wednesday at 40%.

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 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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