My congratulations to my former team mates on the Ares and Orion program. This morning marks the first successful major milestone in returning Americans to Solar System exploration. Though I have been critical of the Ares 1 concept and an open advocate for the Falcon 9, Jupiter or Ares 5 system, this success will provide a great amount of data allowing a more focused and better defined Orion program, and will serve to answer a number of necessary questions regarding the capabilities of the plagued design.
The Candlestick, as Ares 1 is nicknamed, is a solid first stage booster with a liquid second stage and human capsule. The Ares 1-X was intended to test the feasibility of such a design as Americans desperately scramble to replace the Shuttle after the 2003 Columbia accident.
Ares/Orion is not alone in their success, nor in their quest to become the launch platform for American Space Flight. Space X is a private venture vying for a new direction in American Space Travel, where NASA and Ares/Orion (Constellation Program) is government run through subcontracts (Lockheed Martin).
Space X has successfully launched the Falcon 1, proving the key technologies necessary to propel their full size Falcon 9 launch vehicle into the running as America's next human launch vehicle. Flight testing is scheduled to be on the tails of today's Ares 1-X flight, sometime in the next few months. A successful Falcon 9 flight could divert attention and funding away from Ares, as the private venture is currently ready for full scale operations and regular flights. The Ares vehicles are not slated to test fly again until 2012, as current cuts to testing schedule are keeping the system on the ground.
Space X has also designed the Dragon, an automated/crew less cargo supply ship specializing in ISS resupply. The Dragon could easily be modified to carry human passengers, and is ready to be operational in mid 2010... a full 4-6 years before the Orion/Ares system is slated to be operational.
The government option, Ares/Orion, is extremely toxic for the environment, has been changed from a reusable system to a one time use "Apollo" system, is grossly over budget, and is horribly behind schedule... like any good government run program.
The Space X private venture is less expensive, cleaner burning fuel, mostly reusable, on schedule, and relatively on budget... evil capitalists!
My congratulations go out to the Ares 1-X team, many of whom are my personal friends and past co-workers (yes, I am a rocket scientist). However large of a hurdle the Ares 1-X launch was for NASA, it was an overdue milestone that is far behind the private sector's competition for ISS resupply, Human Space Flight, and Extra-planetary exploration.
I am always the advocate for further space development and exploration, but if I had to pick a winner in this race, it would be the Private Sector...