For the first time since April 12, 1981, a new rocket rose from Launch Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA's Ares I-X development test rocket lifted off at 11:30 a.m. EDT for a two-minute powered, six-minute suborbital flight, soaring from the newly-modified Pad 39B to a first stage splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean nearly 150 miles down range.
Credit: NASA TV
"That was just unbelievable, it was spectacular," Kennedy Space Center director and former astronaut Bob Cabana told the launch team after liftoff. "I got tears in my eyes. You know all the naysayers, that was just one of the most beautiful rocket launches I have ever seen."
The 327-foot tall Ares I-X produced 2.6 million pounds of thrust to accelerate the rocket to just shy of hypersonic speed. It capped its easterly flight at an altitude of 150,000 feet after separating its first and second stages, the earlier a four-segment solid rocket booster with a simulated fifth segment.
Borrowed from the shuttle program, the booster will be recovered for later inspection. The upper stage with its mockup Orion crew module and launch abort system was left to impact the water and sink.
The Ares I-X flight offered an early opportunity for NASA to test and prove hardware, facilities and ground operations, data the agency can use for its Constellation program's Ares I rockets and future space vehicles. During the flight, a range of performance data was relayed to the ground and also stored in the onboard flight data recorder.
Seven hundred sensors mounted on the vehicle will provide flight test engineering data to correlate with computer models and analysis.