NASA launched its Ares I-X rocket Wednesday, after multiple delays over two days because of bad weather.
The 327-foot rocket — which NASA considers the world’s largest — took off at 11:30 a.m. ET, 30 minutes before a noon deadline for the launch. It rose about 24 miles. About two minutes after liftoff, the first-stage, reusable rocket booster fell into the Atlantic, where it was to be picked up by a ship.
It was the first flight test for the Constellation Program, NASA’s next-generation spacecraft and launch vehicle system. The rocket’s launch is part of NASA’s mission to someday return astronauts to the moon and later travel to Mars.
NASA spokesman George Diller, who was moderating the launch preparations for broadcasters, communicated the frustration as launches were repeatedly called off with just minutes to go.
After 11 a.m., it appeared there would be a narrow window for a liftoff, and a half-hour later the rocket roared skyward.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of all of you,” Ed Mango, Ares I-X launch director, told engineers and others inside the center after the launch. “That was just one of the most beautiful rocket launches I’ve ever seen.”
“It shows what we can do when we have a common goal.”
As the clock ticked toward noon, NASA officials nervously awaited all-clears for technical items and a weather clearance from weather officer Kathy Winters who, time and again, said conditions were “red,” meaning a no-go. A reconnaissance plane was giving her frequent weather reports.
She kept looking for a break in the high-level clouds. “It’s a very dynamic situation,” Winters said.
Before the launch, the space agency had begun negotiating with the Air Force to see if a Thursday launch attempt was possible. Failing that, NASA couldn’t have tried again until November 16.