Where will NASA's next giant step take us?
The Post's Joel Achenbach reports:
It emerged just after midnight seven days ago, bolted down and gleaming under the floodlights. This was the biggest debut since King Kong, joked the aerospace folks. The Ares I-X is the world's tallest rocket, 327 feet high, and it began the long crawl toward the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, where a planned launch Tuesday morning was scrubbed due to bad weather.
This is a test rocket, a crude approximation of the Ares I, the rocket that NASA has said will replace the aging commuter bus known as the space shuttle. But the Ares I may turn out to be a rocket to nowhere.
A blue-ribbon committee has said the Ares I is part of a NASA program that doesn't make sense given current and future budgets. The commission would like NASA to get out of the business of ferrying astronauts to low Earth orbit and let commercial companies handle that task. Now the Obama administration may try to kill the Ares I.
The space shuttle is old and unsafe and is supposed to be put out to pasture by the end of 2010. The United States will then find itself in the unfamiliar position of being incapable of launching humans into orbit. For five, six, seven years, American astronauts will probably have to buy a seat on a Russian spacecraft.
It's an awkward time for NASA. The most basic questions are on the table: Where to go? How to get there? And to what end?
| October 27, 2009; 1:08 PM ET
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