NASA’s Ares I-X experimental rocket completed its first test flight—but the successful endeavor ended on a sour note. The rocket’s first booster stage, which splashed down in the ocean as planned six minutes after launch, was found to be significantly dented when divers reached the mammoth cylinder to prep it for retrieval [Scientific American]. A malfunctioning parachute system caused the hard splashdown, according to mission manager Bob Ess. However Ess argued that it’s not a real cause for concern, since test flights are intended to reveal and work out the technology’s glitches.
The Ares I-X was a prototype for the controversial Ares I rocket that may carry astronauts to the International Space Station and beyond once the space shuttle is retired. The rocket’s design calls for the first booster stage to be retrieved after each flight for reuse. While NASA’s main objective on the test flight was to evaluate the rocket booster’s power, the test of the new parachute system was one of several major objectives of the Ares 1-X test flight [Spaceflight Now]. Despite the test flight’s overall success, the parachute system’s failure is a black eye for the $450 million project, since the heavy Ares I booster rocket will be difficult to ease back down to Earth. The booster is being retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean to determine what exactly went wrong with the parachute system.
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