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Thu, Oct 22, 2009

Arrow To The Future

Ares I-X Rolled Out To Launch Complex 39B

By Wes Oleszewski

First motion of Crawler-Transporter number 2 took place at 0139 as it snailed its way out of the Vehicle Assembly Building's High Bay 3 at the Kennedy Space Center. On its back was the 327 foot tall Ares I-X Development Flight Test Vehicle.

Hundreds of spectators were gathered at ground level. Most of those who came to see the roll out were KSC employees, but there was a group of hardcore spaceflight news media, waiting, cameras at the ready. 

An announcement had been made that the team involved in the roll out operations would be turning on "The Lights" at the moment that the launch vehicle crossed the threshold of the VAB's high bay door. Prior to that moment the Ares I-X had been illuminated only by the amber tint of the internal building lighting, so most of the cameras were awaiting the moment when the "big" lights would be turned on.

NASA Photo

As  the vehicle crossed the door threshold, NASA solidified the moment by clicking on the Xenon lights one by one. The effect was breath taking as the true size of the Ares I-X was suddenly highlighted. Weighing more than three empty Saturn Vs, the Ares I-X cannot be transported with a launch tower and so must stand alone on the mobile launcher. To the observers, the bright white vehicle loomed into the night's sky and by the time it made the intersection of the two crawler ways, the Xenon lights were bathing it from three directions. On the side of the vehicle facing back toward the VAB the Ares I-X sported a series of huge decals. On the simulated upper stage, beginning just below the Orion adapter and working downward was a giant American flag followed by a NASA logo, a Constellation logo, an Ares project logo and an Ares I-X mission patch. The first stage sports a roll stripe and markings as well as huge "USA" in red lettering.

While the stack proceeded up the crawler way toward pad 39B, the beams of the Xenon lights followed and crossed one another. Soon the Ares I-X was standing alone, away from the buildings and KSC facilities. Brilliantly illuminated, it pointed into blackness of the night like an arrow toward the future of human spaceflight. Finally, after nearly two hours of crawler motion, the stack had moved beyond the service of the Xenon lights and they were turned off, leaving the Ares I-X moving slowly into the night.


NASA Photo

  By mid-morning the vehicle and the launch platform were "hard-down" at Launch Complex 39B. Currently crews are working to prepare the Ares I-X for its launch. Although the direction in which the United States space program will be sent is in unpredictable hands of the politicians in Washington DC, the Ares I-X will soon point the way that can be taken. For now, it represents the next generation of manned launch vehicles and will gather the data needed to fully develop its breed. When it launches on October 27, it will be a fiery arrow pointing the way to the next step for NASA and for the United States.



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