NASA's Ares 1-X launch postponed until Wednesday morning

NASA's Ares 1-X launch delayed by weather and an errant cargo ship

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NASA's Ares 1-X launch has been rescheduled for Wednesday morning after a series of delays that prevented lift-off before noon, when the launch window closed for the day.

The reasons for the Ares 1-X launch delay: weather and an errant cargo ship, which sailed into the restricted area NASA sets up off-shore during launches.

A successful launch would have been a nice way to celebrate the 48th anniversary -- to the day -- of the first launch of NASA's Saturn I rocket in 1961. The Saturn I was a shortened test version of what would become the Apollo moon-mission workhorse, the Saturn V rocket.

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But it wasn't to be and NASA announced the postponement on Twitter and in the conventional way.

"Great job today," launch test director Jeff Spaulding told his crew. "We had some opportunities, but the weather wouldn't cooperate."

NASA's mission managers knew the weather would be a potential show stopper today. Since Friday, the forecast has called for a 60 percent chance that weather conditions would violate launch requirements.

One of the key concerns: high clouds with water droplets or ice particles. They hit the rocket's skin, building up a charge of static electricity that gets released as a corona around the rocket. This corona generates static that can interfere with telemetry the rocket is sending back to the ground from its 700 sensors.

That static also can interfere with any destruct command the range-safety officer must deliver if something goes haywire during the rocket's ascent.

But planners had a four-hour long launch window. So they figured they might be able to catch a break in the clouds. And one did appear, giving them hope.

A weather-delayed countdown resumed to take advantage of that break. But a freighter slipped into the space center's restricted area offshore. Launch officials waited about 15 minute for the vessel to leave. That gave the weather enough time to change from "green" to "red" on the launch-requirement check list.

At one point, Mr. Spaulding had to throttle back on his crew's almost breathless eagerness to try to squeeze a launch into one of the brief breaks in the clouds.

"I want to make sure we do this right," he said, as he ordered up another reset of the countdown clock, in effect delaying the launch.

Still, the day yielded one small victory. At one point, technicians were removing a cover from the nose cone. The cover is designed to protect some of the test rocket's sensors from rain.

For a while, it looked as though the cover wouldn't come off. But persistent tugging on the parachute cord connected to it did the trick, to a round of applause from the control room.

That's about the only applause the day brought.

In the end, the impending loss of another gap in the clouds by the time the countdown hit T-0 on the last attempt shut down the effort for the day.

That means interested spectators will have to roust out early in the morning again tomorrow for another try, scheduled for 8 a.m.

At least the weather is expected to be more cooperative. The forecast calls for only a 40 percent chance that conditions will violate launch requirements.

As for a shipping forecast, we'll leave that to the US Coast Guard.

See also:

NASA’s Ares 1-X rocket gives launch day a whole new look

Russia becomes the world's taxicab to space

Should nations fly to the moon together?

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