Hundreds of cameras watched NASA's Ares 1-X launch last week, the test of NASA's maybe-successor to the space shuttles, but none had a more complete view than one on board a small Cessna Skymaster, which the space agency had circling about 10 miles away and 12,000 feet above the launch pad. NASA has posted its video on YouTube. Take a look if you have six minutes to spare. It shows the flight from start to finish.
A few notes:
- Recall that only the first stage was functional for this test, and since it is solid-fueled, there is no way to turn it "off." Instead, it uses up its fuel…and continues to stream the embers from whatever's left over as it falls back toward the Atlantic. The dummy upper stage, which you see tumbling out of the frame, crashed in the ocean several miles away.
- Late in the video, a small drogue chute comes out to stop the rocket from tumbling. It's followed by three larger parachutes, one of which tore as it opened. NASA says it damaged one of the two remaining chutes, making for a hard splashdown. The booster casing was badly dented, though NASA says it's not a big deal since, unlike operational versions of the Ares 1, this test rocket will not be reused.
Of course, there may never be an operational version. Last month an outside commission under former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine said NASA probably could no longer afford the entire moon-and-Mars plan laid out by the Bush administration in 2004, and a decision on how to proceed will come from the Obama White House.
Meanwhile, Aviation Week & Space Technology reports NASA is talking about canceling the next Ares test flight, called Ares 1-Y with a working second stage. And the Orlando Sentinel, which covers the Kennedy Space Center in its backyard, urges in an editorial that the Ares 1 be canceled entirely.
"NASA has projected that developing Ares I and a crew capsule to accompany it will cost $35 billion, but the Government Accountability Office came up with an estimate of $49 billion," it wrote. "The Augustine committee predicted that the entire Constellation program, which includes Ares I, Ares V, the Orion capsule and the Altair lunar lander, will run $45 billion over budget."