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Booster rocket was damaged in test flight, NASA says

CAPE CANAVERAL — The booster rocket used in a test flight was badly dented when it fell into the Atlantic because of a deflated parachute, NASA said Thursday.

The new Ares I-X — the precursor to NASA's planned moon rockets — completed a two-minute flight Wednesday. The launch itself went well, officials said, but one of the three parachutes on the booster failed to work properly.

All three parachutes opened, but one ended up deflating for unknown reasons, said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel. That caused the booster to hit the ocean with extra force.

The first-stage booster — similar to what's used for the space shuttles — was found to be dented near the bottom when it was recovered from the ocean. It was expected back on shore today.

The Ares I-X is a prototype of what's supposed to replace the space shuttles and ultimately fly to the moon. The White House, though, may nix those plans.

Shuttle managers, meanwhile, have chosen Nov. 16 for the launch of Atlantis on a space station delivery mission. That assumes an unmanned rocket flies Nov. 14 with a communication satellite; a one-day postponement for that launch would bump the Atlantis flight to the 17th.

NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said the Ares I-X parachute trouble will not impact the Atlantis launch. They are different parachute designs, he noted.

The shuttle program has had its share of parachute trouble.

During Discovery's launch in August, a parachute on one of the two boosters ripped slightly. The other parachute compensated, however, and the retrieved booster was not damaged. Engineers still do not know what caused the problem.

Booster rocket was damaged in test flight, NASA says 10/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2009 10:50pm]
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