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NASA Ares 1-X coverage: Ares rocket damaged after launch

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(Read caption) The launch of NASA's Ares 1-X rocket went off without a hitch. But the Ares rocket's solid-fuel motor was badly damaged when it hit the ocean.

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NASA's Ares 1-X rocket -- it's first stage, to be precise -- was badly damaged as it hit the ocean following Wednesday's test launch.

According to a post on Florida Today's website, the solid-fuel motor's casing bent on impact after two of its three recovery parachutes failed to open. The site also has photos of the dinged casing.

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As long-time space writer Todd Halverson reports it, one 'chute wrapped around a second, partially open 'chute, leaving only one parachute properly deployed. It's a bit like trying to slow a high-speed car with only one wheel's brakes working.

Meanwhile, engineers are puzzling over a not-quite-as-planned separation of the first stage and a second, dummy stage. Instead of continuing nose-first for another 20,000 feet or so after the first-stage motor burned out and separated, the second stage began to tumble as it climbed.

Not the kind of tight spiral you'd expect from the Bret Favre of rocketry, but that's why NASA ordered up test flights.

The Ares 1-X is a prototype for the vehicle NASA aims to use to launch astronauts into low-Earth orbit once the space-shuttle program ends. That's currently scheduled for the end of 2010. NASA officials say they are on track to have Ares 1 ready by 2016.

In the meantime, the agency has bought seats on Russian Soyuz rockets for US astronauts slated to serve on the International Space Station. That will fill the gap between the demise of the venerable shuttles and the arrival of Ares 1.

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See also:

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Should nations fly to the moon together?

NASA's Ares 1-X rocket gives launch day a whole new look


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