CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, the Ares 1-X experimental rocket — the next-generation of America's space flight program — blasted off flawlessly through clear skies at Cape Canaveral.
This launch shows how challenging rocket science really is: Blue skies over the launch pad in Florida hid a variety of challenges, including static-filled clouds and high-altitude winds.
Launching a rocket through these conditions isn't like a plane taking off from a landing strip: It's more like shooting a rubberband through a keyhole from across a parking lot.
At 11:26, NASA resumed the 4-minute launch countdown that had been on pause since 8 a.m Tuesday morning. The ignition system armed, the water and electrical systems activated, and at 11:30 a.m., the Ares 1-X experimental rocket blasted off through clear skies from NASA's launch pad in Florida.
The ship passed Mach 2, achieving speeds of over 1,540 mph. Then, at 22.2 nautical miles up in the air, "burnout" occurred, a stage at which the two segments of the rocket separate and the capsule falls back to Earth.
The test rocket includes a real solid-rocket first stage, with a mock second stage and dummy Orion crew capsule on top to simulate the intended weight and size of Ares I. Ares I-X is the tallest booster in service or about to fly and stands about 327 feet high — 14 stories taller than NASA's space shuttles.
This rocket could eventually take man into space, back to the moon. In an actual moon launch, the second stage of the rocket will contain the liquid propellant that carries the capsule further into space, and ultimately into orbit.
Clouds, snagged tethers and even a misdirected cargo ship within the danger area in the Atlantic Ocean contributed to an eventual postponement in Monday's scheduled launch of the Ares 1-X.