Oct. 27 launch will be first test of shuttle replacement

Oct. 27's launch target altitude won't be low Earth orbit. Instead, the rocket will peak at 130,000 feet, on the edge of space, zooming at 3,300 MPH,m while the first stage will zoom on to its top altitude of 150,000 feet.

From peak altitude, the first-stage will fall back to Earth buoyed by parachutes; a NASA ship located 144 miles east of Cape Canaveral will retrieve it. This is the same vessel that has been used to retrieve the shuttle's burned out solid-rocket boosters to be reused.

Here's what to watch out for: Separation of the Ares 1-X's first-stage on Oct. 27 will be the key event that will decide the ultimate success of this $350 million test flight. (The mockup upper stage and Orion spacecraft are less important; they will fall back into the ocean and not be retrieved.)

You can watch the exciting live launch of Ares 1-X at 8 a.m., Oct. 27, on NASA-TV. NASA-TV is available by most cable and satellite television providers or you can watch it for free online at www.nasa.gov/multimedia\Nasatv/index.html.

What's in the Sky: The planets Mercury, Venus and Saturn are staggered along the imaginary line of the ecliptic Oct. 24. Look in the east after 7 p.m. fro this trio. The line of the ecliptic slices through the constellation Virgo.

Lou Varricchio, M.Sc., is a former NASA science writer. He is a member of the NASA-JPL Solar System Ambassador program in Vermont.

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