NASA's launch of the Ares 1-X test rocket Wednesday was a success—but, as it turns out, a qualified one. The rocket's first booster stage, which splashed down in the ocean as planned six minutes after launch, was found to be significantly dented when divers reached the mammoth cylinder to prep it for retrieval.
Ares 1-X mission manager Bob Ess told reporters Friday that parachute malfunction was the culprit in the damage, according to Universe Today. The failure of one of the booster's three main parachutes, as well as possible collateral damage to another chute, resulted in a hard landing in the water, Ess explained.
But Ess downplayed the significance of the glitch. The people responsible for the parachutes "are not worried about it," he said. "This is all part of doing a test flight, so the team is still very elated."
But Spaceflight Now notes that the "test of the new parachute system was one of several major objectives of the Ares 1-X test flight." The planned Ares 1 crew-launch rocket, for which Ares 1-X is a test vehicle, will be more difficult to ease back to Earth for recovery than, say, comparatively lightweight space shuttle boosters. "The full-scale parachute system used for [Ares 1-X's] first flight test was designed to handle the heavier weight of the Ares 1 and its fall from a higher altitude," Spaceflight Now explains.
Photo credit: NASA