So, what did I miss then?
The rollout of Ares I-X provided a spectacular sight, watched eagerly by reporters and photographers, along with NASA personnel, as the giant rocket slowly make the 4.2 mile launch pad trek. Ares I-X rocket stands 143 feet taller than the Shuttle, and is the tallest rocket to emerge from the Vehicle Assembly Building since the massive 363-foot Saturn V rocket used to launch Apollo astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The Saturn V still holds the record for the tallest, most powerful rocket in history, but Ares I-X is the tallest current orbit capable launch vehicle.
So, isn't the Shuttle there too?
Yes, it is! Space Shuttle Atlantis is currently perched atop its own launch pad, Pad 39A for a planned Nov. 16 liftoff. It is the first time two different human spaceflight vehicles have occupied the complex 39 pads.
The Ares I-X is not a full Ares I rocket. Its first stage is a four-segment solid rocket booster — repurposed from the shuttle fleet's inventory — capped with a dummy fifth segment. The thicker second stage, Orion crew capsule and launch abort system are also all mock-ups built to simulate the size and mass of the real thing.
Next week's launch test flight is expected to last just over two minutes and reach an altitude of about 28 miles. First stage separation will come about two minutes, 33 seconds into the flight, with the first stage parachuting down to the ocean to be recovered. The dummy second stage and Orion mockups will crash into the ocean and not be recovered.
Ares I-X has three chances to launch next week, one a day each between Oct. 27 and Oct. 29. NASA initially planned to only have two days to try and fly Ares I-X, but on Monday the agency pushed the launch target for Space Shuttle Atlantis by four days to Nov. 16 in order to allow for a third opportunity.
So, what else have they got planned for Ares?
The Ares I-X flight is the first of three planned test flights for the Ares I rocket. The next launch, dubbed Ares I-Y, is slated to launch in 2014 and include a real second stage. The third mission, called Orion I, is planned to launch an actual Orion spacecraft into orbit, but on an unmanned test flight.
Here are a couple of Ares I-X videos.
Ares I-X Rollout
Animation of Ares I-X test flight
Enjoy the launch, and Happy Spacing, Spacers!