It’s been a week since the Ares I-X launch, so you are probably wondering where the pictures are. After the launch, I tried to clean up as best I could in the bathroom at the space center, and I headed straight to the airport to catch my plane back to DFW. Upon returning, I have been busy trying to play catchup. I needed to rescale the images so that they would not be too large. But finally, they are here! Click on the pictures for a larger view. Don’t rag on me that the pictures are not as good as the press photographers get. They’ve got more expensive camera equipment and a lot more experience than I do!
The first picture, above, is of the rocket sitting on the launch pad on Monday night. Below is a picture of me standing next to the countdown clock. (Hey, I had to get a tourist-type photo, OK?).
But, alas, the countdown only proceeded to T minus 4 minutes. It then held. On Tuesday, they said that they were just a bit behind on tasks. However, the weather played a factor, then a ship got in the way, and then more weather was a problem. Future flights will not have the same constraint on triboelectrification that this flight had. Part of the issue was that this was a developmental flight, so there were a lot of sensors on board looking at just how much triboelectrification this rocket will have anyway, so they needed pretty tight weather constraints. So, the next day, we were back at the space center at 5:30am again, and the countdown ticked down to T minus 4 minutes again. The picture above was during that second day (I got one of me on the first day, too). The initial problem on the second day was checking out the rocket after lightning strikes in the vicinity overnight. Everything checked out, but the weather was still not good. The following picture was what we kept seeing, for nearly seven hours over the two days.
Eventually, though, the weather was within tolerances for a few minutes. Fortunately, it was just long enough of a window for the rocket to get off the ground before the weather deteriorated. I have a lot of pictures of that, but the next three images show the rocket right after engine ignition, shortly after clearing the pad structures, and in flight.
It was quite impressive. I realize that there is some controversy over the Ares rocket design, but I am glad that I got to be there for the launch. I would very much like to see other launches. I’ll be investigating some more about the Ares rockets, including some of the criticisms, and I’ll be writing more about it later. Whether the Ares project goes forward or not, the data collected on this launch may be useful for engineers designing future rockets. Already, we know that there was a problem with the parachutes on the rocket. Finding what doesn’t work right, of course, is one of the reasons for test flights. This rocket was not the final Ares rocket, but it should provide useful data for those engineers building that rocket. Think of this as a huge wind tunnel test and a test of the recovery system.
I feel quite privileged to have asked to see the launch. No matter what happens to the Ares project, there will only be one first launch of the configuration (granted, the Ares I-Y launch in several years will more closely match the final configuration, but this is a rocket of about the same size and shape), and I got to see it! I would very much like to see some of the other launches, too. I would particularly like to be present at some of the launches of the commercial rockets that are being developed. This is a very exciting time that we are living in. Decades ago, the only people launching rockets were government space agencies and military of those governments. Now, there are a number of private companies that have gotten into the space launch business. This is very important. Aviation did not really take off as a major business, with all of the benefits that it provides, until private industry began to become heavily involved. I can envision a future in which private companies are almost continually launching rockets carrying satellites, lifting people to space stations, supplying those space stations, and perhaps even sending missions to the Moon and beyond. We are not there, yet. And, there is still a role for the government (NASA) in space exploration. But, these are exciting times.
(Images of this post copyright Astroprof’s Page)