The first flight of NASA's newest rocket was scrubbed this morning after upper-level winds, clouds and an errant freighter created several delays for its initial launch.
The Ares I-X rocket was set to lift off Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. ET. Weather problems forced a delay to 9:44 a.m.; then it was announced that a cargo ship was in the down-launch area. After resetting the clock, another hold was placed because of weather.
By 11:20 it was clear that winds exceeding 20 knots were not going to abate, and Mission Control regrouped, to decide whether to try again tomorrow.
The towering rocket isn't carrying any humans or cargo, but in some ways it's carrying the future of the U.S. manned space flight program. It's the centerpiece of a $445 million test flight expected to generate valuable engineering data for development of a replacement for NASA's aging fleet of space shuttles.
The rocket is part of the Constellation program, designed to return America to the moon and beyond, reports CBS News science and technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg.
But it was approved in 2005, when the economy was stronger. Since then, NASA's budget has been cut by $15 billion.
Just last week, a NASA review panel commissioned by President Obama reported that
"We say that because of a mismatch between the scope of the program and the funds to support the program," said the commission's chairman, Norman Augustine.
The panel concluded that NASA's current plans to build new Ares rockets and establish bases on the moon by the early 2020s is not feasible without an additional $3 billion to $6 billion a year.
The panel laid out a handful of alternatives, including using private companies to launch U.S. astronauts in the near-term. But without more money the entire program is in doubt, which one former NASA chief calls a potential tragedy.
"If we in the United States decide to step away from space exploration, the solar system will belong to others, and we will be watching from the sidelines," said former NASA administrator Mike Griffin.
For the first test flight, lasting all of six minutes, NASA is using a standard four-segment shuttle booster with an empty fifth segment, housing guidance and navigation equipment adapted from Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5 rocket, and new 150-foot-diameter parachutes to lower the spent rocket to the ocean for recovery.
A dummy second stage, loaded with ballast and topped off with a make-believe Orion capsule and abort rocket, are bolted to the top of the first stage, said CBS News space consultant William Harwood.
More than 700 sensors are mounted on the Ares I-X to record an enormous amount of engineering data on all phases of flight, from launch through motor burn out two minutes later, through stage separation, parachute deployment and ocean impact. Multiple video cameras are mounted on the rocket to provide real-time views of critical elements.
Engineers say the short flight will help them resolve questions about first stage vibration, roll control, aerodynamic forces and thermal effects, as well as stage separation systems and recovery of the first stage using new 150-foot-wide parachutes.
"One test is worth a thousand expert opinions," said Jon Cowart, Ares I-X deputy mission manager at the Kennedy Space Center.