Ares I-X: Will This Be The Only Launch Of Constellation?

The Ares I-X and space shuttle Atlantis, ready to launch (NASA)
The Ares I-X and space shuttle Atlantis, ready to launch (NASA)

This is possibly the most confusing image I have seen since I started writing about human space flight. In the foreground, we have the brand new Ares I crew launch test vehicle for the Constellation Program (a.k.a. the Ares I-X), and in the background we have space shuttle Atlantis awaiting its scheduled Nov. 16th STS-129 launch. Is this going to be a historic scene of the past and future generations of U.S. manned space flight? Or is this going to be an example of how to waste a lot of money very quickly in one launch?

The world should be bubbling over with excitement that we are about to see a brand new launch system take to the skies on Tuesday at 8am EDT (albeit on a suborbital path) but it’s not, as hanging over the Constellation Program is the decision to come from the White House after the Augustine Commission report was released on Thursday. No one expected good news for the Ares I rocket, and nothing much has changed. NASA is developing the wrong rocket for the wrong destination (i.e. the Moon).

AresIX_patch02.svg

On the one hand, I want to see the Constellation Program become the trailblazer of manned spaceflight, but on the other hand I’m concerned that the program is too flawed and too expensive (pretty much in agreement with the Commission). Perhaps a cheaper, more efficient alternative can be implemented to solve our current space exploration woes? NASA definitely needs the support of commercial spaceflight, perhaps a focus on stimulating the commercial sector should take an even higher priority than space station resupply contracts?

There are arguments for and against Constellation, and I haven’t worked out where I stand yet. However, I totally support Norm Augustine’s comments that NASA shouldn’t be “running a trucking service” in low-Earth orbit. That job should be left to commercial spaceflight companies. NASA should be pushing into new frontiers with the most technologically advanced spaceship they can develop.

So, back to this photo. Never before has the term “bitter sweet” been so applicable. I just hope we see a perfect launch on Tuesday, but it may well be the only flight of Constellation (so be sure to wake up early, just in case).

Image source: NASA

11 thoughts on “Ares I-X: Will This Be The Only Launch Of Constellation?”

  1. Sure, NASA shouldn't be running a trucking company. But how much of their technical data that the commercializers could seriously use is tied up in contracts with the Big Suppliers, or is locked away as classified by the Military, or otherwise isn't available to the public? Space launches are going to *STAY* stupidly expensive until such time as we're launching significant quantities of vehicles on a regular basis.

    1. This is exactly why we need to see more initiatives like the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. When I visited the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, CA, the staff there were very supportive of NASA's technical role in providing expertise as and when needed. If this program can be better funded, and more programs focusing not just on the ISS, but on servicing/launching satellites, I think a very fruitful NASA/commercial partnership can be forged.

      1. When I read about the Augustine Commission's remarks, I was immediately struck by how _obvious_ they were. NASA does need some refocusing. I think that the manned space program stalled out somewhat. It's almost as though they are just trying to look busy. Sadly, the immediacy of information in the information age doesn't give the current unmanned programs by NASA the chance to really generate public interest. People's attention is lost so fast. Think of New Horizons. I can count on one hand the people I know who know anything about it. And we won't have any information from it for what feels like a very long time in this 'instant' age. It's hard for most people who don't understand the complexity (and I'd include myself, because while I know more than average, I still know very little) of space travel for humans to understand why it will take so long to take us beyond the moon. Whenever I hear someone go off about us _needing_ to go to mars, I remind them that, in the eyes of history, we only recently set foot on the moon. Columbus discovered America in 1492. Jamestown, our first colony, wasn't founded until 1607! And that was a pretty much haggard attempt after numerous repeated explorations. There was no Mall of America at Jamestown.One thing I believe that NASA needs to do, something very vital, is to make a more focused effort at instilling an 'awe' for space studies in young children. And not just at it's various centers, or with the above-average students- I'm talking about in all classrooms across the country. This involves a concentrated effort in government towards educational funding, something that I know many people want to happen and are fighting for already. We need support from higher up in order to make it happen. We also need to better train our educators in how to use the technology we currently have to interact with ISS and the space program in the classroom. “Adopt an astronaut”, anybody? These programs maybe do in fact exist- but I can tell you that across the board, few educators are aware of them. I know of some teachers who use the astronauts twitter accounts in their classrooms- but NASA didn't even come up with that idea.When was the last time you saw NASA's public relations department make an effort at making it's programs, launches, and ISS teamwork exciting and interactive for young children? Average 2nd and 3rd graders, for example? Kids aren't just fascinated by floating jello anymore. And adults underestimate the interest that can be generated- even in very young students- in current research and development within the space program- especially when it is made relevant to them personally. Why are we not seeing this happen?By instilling that sense of awe and respect for science and space studies in young people, you create a sense of purpose for them in the decades to come. They are better informed about what space travel entails, and have a greater respect for the various attempts at discovery we have made, are making, and will be making in the future. These are the kids who will grow up to be tax payers, senators, and other leaders- ultimate making the decisions about the future of human space travel. So whereas this may possibly be “a historic scene of the past and future generations of U.S. manned space flight”, it will largely go unnoticed, and that's not the publics fault. It is NASA that should be working towards creating a sense of 'investment' into the space program with the public- both the young and old. You're right Ian, they need to work with the commercial sector and focus their attention on new frontiers-and I would add: while at the same time, generating a public interest in a viable, interactive, and publicly relevant program.

    1. It's my understanding that the movie makes a claim about the existence of a mutant race of descendants from the moon, a people evolved only on the dark side, that managed to send DNA back to earth covertly with the arrival of the Apollo missions. Currently their DNA has mutated with our own creating a race of overly emotional and horny vampires who drive nice cars. They appear to only be acclimated to shopping at urban outfitters.Ares I-X was a plan for a covert mission to send man back to the moon to confirm the existence of the original moon race, who we fear may have retreated into underground moon caves. NASA can neither confirm nor deny whether the new mutants will continue to assimilate into our population, creating exponential needs for local Hot Topic locations and a drastic shortage in black eyeliner.

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