You're looking at the future of NASA's manned space program. For the first time in a quarter-century, there's a new manned space vehicle poised for launch. The first version of the Ares I rocket is now stacked up in NASA's vehicle assembly building at Cape Canaveral, in preparation for a launch scheduled for "no earlier than October 31, 2009." Let's hope that'll be a happy Halloween.
The experimental launch is called Ares I-X, and there won't be any humans on board yet — people don't get to ride this horse until 2015. On this first test flight, NASA scientists will be simulating the first two minutes of the mission of the 1.8 million-pound vehicle, observing how well it can be controlled, demonstrating staging and separation, determining how well it holds up under aerodynamic, thermal and vehicle loads, and then testing the reentry dynamics of the first stage.
If all goes well with this test launch, NASA will be on its way toward its goals for the Ares program: "to return to the moon for ambitious exploration of the lunar surface and then to travel to Mars and destinations beyond." We especially like that "destinations beyond" part.