Letters from London: the personal blog of Natasha Loder of The Economist
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The buzz from Buzz
Time magazine has voted NASA's Ares 1 rocket one of the 50 inventions of the year. "The best and smartest and coolest thing built in 2009 — a machine that can launch human beings to cosmic destinations we'd never considered before — is the fruit of a very old family tree, one with branches grand, historic and even wicked.
"Yes, the rocket that thundered aloft from NASA's Launch Pad 39B sure looked like an Ares 1. But that's where the resemblance stops. Turns out the solid booster was - literally - bought from the Space Shuttle program, since a five-segment booster being designed for Ares wasn't ready. So they put a fake can on top of the four-segmented motor to look like the real thing. Since the real Ares' upper stage rocket engine, called the J-2X wasn't ready either, they mounted a fake upper stage. No Orion capsule was ready, so - you guessed it - they mounted a fake capsule with a real-looking but fake escape rocket that wouldn't have worked if the booster had failed. Since the guidance system for Ares wasn't ready either they went and bought a unit from the Atlas rocket program and used it instead. Oh yes, the parachutes to recover the booster were the real thing -- and one of the three failed, causing the booster to slam into the ocean too fast and banging the thing up. So, why you might ask, if the whole machine was a bit of slight-of-hand rocketry did NASA bother to spend almost half a billion dollars (that's billion with a "b") in developing and launching the Ares 1-X?" (Read more at Huffington Post)