NASA’s Ares I Starting To Take Shape at Marshall
Four years after NASA embraced Ares I as the next route to space for U.S. astronauts, the new crew launch vehicle is beginning to move from computer-aided-design workstations to the floors of various “fab labs” here that in some cases date back to the Saturn V program in the 1960s.
However, the Ares I’s destiny is very much up in the air as a panel headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine pores over options for U.S. human spaceflight. The panel is pitting progress, and problems, here against human-rating the Delta IV heavy that already is flying cargo, and against a few other concepts that are still in the “paper-rocket” stage (see pp. 12, 45 and 46).
Augustine’s group is scheduled to report by the end of August, just about the time ATK conducts the first full-scale static test of the solid-fuel Ares I first stage – a single five-segment modification of the twin four-segment boosters that help lift the space shuttle off the pad. The White House plans to use the Augustine report to decide whether to continue developing the Ares I and the lunar-exploration architecture it supports, move to another rocket, or perhaps even give the space shuttle fleet a new lease on life beyond its planned retirement at the end of next year.
The decision, which may include changes in the Fiscal 2010 NASA budget request already being considered on Capitol Hill, will have more moving parts than a cryogenic rocket engine. President Barack Obama and his science advisers must weigh not only the technical merits of the various human-spaceflight vehicles on the table, but also the budgetary, domestic political and international-relations implications of their choices.
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