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lunes, 26 de octubre de 2009

Ares I-X: Building on NASA's Famous First Flights



HOST (Jon Cowart):
Hi, I'm Jon Cowart at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

I am the deputy mission manager for the Ares I-X flight test.

Ares I-X, or simply I-X as we call it, is like a midterm exam for us.

The flight test is designed to show us whether we are on the right track in building the next system to lift astronauts into space.

Now, there won't be any astronauts on board the I-X when it lifts off from Launch Pad 39B here at Kennedy, but our attention to every detail will be intense.

The Ares I-X is 327-feet tall and uses a solid rocket booster as a first stage.

But where later rockets will have an operational upper stage and Apollo-style spacecraft atop the booster, the Ares I-X uses weight simulators instead.

The idea is to test the ability of the booster rocket to lift the upper stage and spacecraft.

The flight also will show us whether it will separate safely.

So where does I-X fit? Basically, it's the most detailed test we have attempted in the program to this point.

There are of thousands of engineers, technicians and others working at NASA centers around the United States on the effort.

So we know there are a lot of challenges with this Ares I-X flight test. That's alright, NASA's launched plenty of firsts.

Although NASA has been launching astronauts into space since 1961, the space agency started with rockets that did not carry anyone.

After all, there were no sophisticated computers that could accurately predict exactly what would happen after engines were ignited.

So engineers tested rockets often to see how they'd work.

Sometimes the designs worked well.

Sometimes they didn't.

But each launch was a learning experience, and researchers quickly learned from the problems and advanced each design until they were comfortable enough to start putting payloads aboard.

NASA sent its first satellite into orbit, Explorer 1, in 1958.

They rockets weren't perfect yet, but they made progress.

Alan Shepard became the first American in space in 1961, riding in a Mercury capsule perched on a Redstone rocket.

More successes followed, including the launch of the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, in February, 1962.

Each launch added to the record of achievement and soon it was time for NASA to test its largest rocket ever, the Saturn V.

Confident of the design, engineers took the unusual step for the time of testing the rocket and its three stages all at once the first time up.

The test launches were loaded with instruments and cameras.

That was in case something unexpected happened, engineers could have something to evaluate the problem.

For the Saturn V, the cameras returned some of the most spectacular images of the historic Apollo Program.

Saturn's successes were still being recorded as NASA engineers set about developing its replacement a reusable craft that glided back to Earth.

That design would become the space shuttle.

Just like with the previous rockets, the shuttle underwent extensive testing.

The glide back to Earth had to be evaluated firsthand.

In a break with previous crewed spacecraft, though, the first complete shuttle stack was launched with astronauts on board.

John Young and Robert Crippen put the shuttle design through its first paces in space during STS-1 in April, 1981.

Now, with those experiences of the past as a guide, the stage has been set for the Ares I-X flight test.

We've stacked the experimental rocket carefully and already have run a number of tests on it as it stood high inside Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building.

And we've modified one of the launch pads that used to host shuttles and Apollo rockets.

Just like we've done since the first Saturn V launch, we used a crawler-transporter to carefully move I-X out to the launch pad.

In short, we at NASA know we have a big test coming up, and we are ready for it.

This is an exciting time for us, because it is an early payoff for a significant amount of work we have already carried out on this program.

It's also an exciting time for the nation because this new rocket will give us a fresh look at possible ways to reach beyond Earth orbit.

Thanks for joining us today.

From NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I'm Jon Cowart.