NASA scientists still aren't sure what went wrong with a pair of parachutes that failed during Wednesday's Ares I-X rocket test flight, causing damage to the spent booster when it splashed into the Atlantic Ocean harder than planned.
"There was an indication that we had a parachute problem," said Ares I-X mission manager Bob Ess on Friday. "Afterward, when we saw the parachutes we assumed, properly, that [the rocket] must have hit harder than it should have."
Engineers are poring through the copious data returned from the test launch to discover the root of the issue, but said they're not too worried.
"Damage to the booster is not really a concern to us," Ess said. "We don't plan on reusing it. We got the data and a good test of the parachutes."
He said he hoped to find out more about why the 150-foot (46-meter) parachutes - two out of three - malfunctioned. One deflated as the booster fell down to the sea. The parachutes were designed to deploy after the $445 million test flight's first stage - a solid rocket booster - separated from its mock second stage.
"If it was something to do with the separation event and there was scorching, that gives you some indications," Ess said. "We don't think that's the case," though, he added.
He expects the team will be able to provide a more thorough update next week, but that the event wasn't the kind of emergency that would send engineers into overtime analysis.
"Later next week we'll have a good feeling as to what we think happened," Ess said. "The parachute thing was like 'Hey, look at that.' We're not worried, there's no [major] investigation."
Ares I-X was the first prototype of the Ares I rocket planned to carry astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the moon after the space shuttles retire. Ares I, part of NASA's Constellation program, is currently under review by the White House. The test rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a six-minute fact-finding flight.