NASA ready for Mars rocket test flight Tuesday

NASA is set to launch a test flight of its new Ares I-X rocket that is designed to replace the aging space shuttle fleet and eventually spirit humans to Mars .

NASA announced today that the test vehicle is slated to take off some time between 8 a.m. and noon tomorrow from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B. The space agency noted that Ares I-X rocket is the first non-space shuttle craft to be launched from the Pad 39B since the Apollo program's Saturn rockets were retired more than 25 years ago.

"For those of us who've lived with the shuttle and grew up looking at Saturn Vs, it's obviously a little different than what we're used to seeing," said Jon Cowart, one NASA's two Ares I-X deputy mission managers, in a statement.

Bad weather could stand in the way of the big test launch, though, as meterologists say that there's only a 40% change of good weather in the four-hour window. If the 1.8-million-pound, 327-foot-tall rocket doesn't launch on Tuesday, the take-off will be rescheduled for Wednesday, according to NASA.

The space agency noted on its Web site that it's looking for tomorrow's flight to gauge the dependability and characteristics of the rocket's hardware, facilities and ground operations. With more than 700 sensors on board, Ares I-X is wired to relay ascent data back to engineers on the ground.

The Ares I-X combines technology from several different operations.

NASA reported that the rocket's four first-stage, solid-fuel booster segments come from the space shuttle program. A booster segment contains Atlas-V-based avionics, and the rocket's roll control system comes from the Peacekeeper missile. However, the launch abort system, simulated crew and service modules, upper stage, and various connecting structures are original.

NASA's Ares rockets are expected to return humans to the moon and later take them to Mars.

NASA has been planning on a move to the moon and then on to Mars for several years now. The space agency has been working toward setting up a lunar outpost by 2020.

However, the schedule, if not the mission itself, has come into some question as President Barack Obama's administration oversees an independent review of NASA 's human space flight activities. With budgetary concerns in the forefront, the review is looking at possible alternatives to programs already in the pipeline.

This story, "NASA ready for Mars rocket test flight Tuesday" was originally published by Computerworld.

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