Time Magazine Falls for Rocket Launch Hoax

Time Magazine Falls for Rocket Launch Hoax

Washington D.C., November 16, 2009 – Citing Time magazine’s selection of NASA’s proposed Ares rockets “The Best Invention of the Year” based on a single purported “test flight” of the vehicle on October 28th , the Space Frontier Foundation congratulated NASA on its propaganda triumph. The Foundation pointed out that the rocket launched by NASA was not an Ares 1 at all, but a dummy vehicle cobbled together from pieces of other space systems, an elaborate mock-up shaped and painted to look like the actual vehicle, which isn’t even scheduled to fly for another 7 years.

“While many reporters know that Ares 1 is far behind schedule and likely to be canceled as an unnecessary distraction from real exploration missions, apparently Time magazine fell for this publicity hoax. There was no boy in the balloon and there most definitely was no Ares rocket launched in Florida last month,” said the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “If anyone at Time had taken the time to go beyond the NASA and contractor flacks, they would have found out what most people in the space community already knew. This was a marketing ploy designed to save a program threatened with imminent cancellation.”

Time’s assertion that the Ares 1 rocket is “The best and smartest and coolest thing built in 2009” is a simple error of fact and should be immediately retracted. There was no Ares 1 vehicle built in 2009.

Even if a real Ares 1 launch vehicle were ever built and launched, it would still be an obscenely wasteful duplication of existing commercial and military rockets, which doesn’t seem too smart or cool during our federal budget meltdown.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Apollo Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin put into words what is common knowledge in the space launch community: “Turns out the solid booster was – literally – bought from the Space Shuttle program, since a five-segment booster being designed for Ares wasn’t ready. So they put a fake can on top of the four-segmented motor to look like the real thing. Since the real Ares’ upper stage rocket engine, called the J-2X wasn’t ready either, they mounted a fake upper stage. No Orion capsule was ready, so – you guessed it – they mounted a fake capsule with a real-looking but fake escape rocket that wouldn’t have worked if the booster had failed. Since the guidance system for Ares wasn’t ready either they went and bought a unit from the Atlas rocket program and used it instead. Oh yes, the parachutes to recover the booster were the real thing — and one of the three failed, causing the booster to slam into the ocean too fast and banging the thing up…. So, why you might ask, if the whole machine was a bit of slight-of-hand rocketry did NASA bother to spend almost half a billion dollars (that’s billion with a “b”) in developing and launching the Ares 1-X? The answer: politics.”

The Space Frontier Foundation urges everyone who thinks that accuracy in the media is important to point their browser at http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1934027_1934003_1933945,00.html, drag that red slider all the way to the left, where it says “not important” and hit the submit button. After you’ve done that, ask your friends to do the same.

Let’s show the media that truth matters and that news should be based on objective reality rather than politics and PR.

Link: Press Release (SFF Scribd site)


  • Puck says:

    The Time system permits multiple votes! Vote early and often against this turkey.

  • Keith says:

    Is there a “death panel” for this pathetic website? Is this the Space version of the National Enquirer? The configuration of Ares 1X was known from the beginning and never hidden from the public (if they were interested). It was a test, in the truest sense! Get your facts straight!

  • Loki says:

    I have little problem with Ares 1X as a test, except to ask if it was worth $400 million for a test that taught us so little. Some people could develop a whole new rocket for that. I have a big problem with people who pretend that it was a demo of Ares 1. And I have a huge problem with anything that supports a space exploration architecture that is so unaffordable and dysfunctional that will probably end up being canceled after wasting more than a decade and tens of billions of dollars.

    To review, Ares 1 will cost about $1 billion per flight because of the low flight rate and the huge shuttle infrastructure costs. Even if NASA gets another $3 billion per year, Ares 1 won't fly until after ISS is scheduled to be destroyed. Meanwhile, the requirement to support the ISS has driven up Ares 1 and Orion costs. It could cost as much as an additional $6 billion per year to afford both ISS and Ares 1 after 2015. So without ISS, Ares 1 has nowhere to go for a decade while Ares 5 is developed. Does anyone really think that five Congresses in a row will pay $ billions per year for a program that goes nowhere and does nothing? This plan has the death of NASA written on it.

  • Demyan says:

    The Ares 1X was, and is, a good idea as a test (though it might be argued to be too expensive). It is sad however that it is also being used for political leverage by misrepresenting what it was. Understand that my personal view is for commercial human transportation to LEO and beyond, but I still feel this article misrepresents Ares 1X. Let me explain:

    The primary purpose of Ares 1X was to monitor thrust vibrations near solid rocket booster burnout and their effect on vehicle vibrations and dynamics (If you care about the specifics I can go into them). Computer simulations suggested that these would be a serious problem, enough to kill the whole Ares I concept, but instruments on the shuttle SRB's did not show this to be as serious, but partially because of the shuttle design. NASA needed a better test of the effects of thrust oscillation, and it needed to be as soon as possible. So, the "fake" parts weren't just to make the rocket "look" like an Ares 1, but to make it behave like one in flight, which was the point of the test. These "fakes" weren't just pieces of metal bolted together for aesthetics, but were engineering mock-ups to best simulate the weights and characteristics of the parts they are standing-in for. Since the test should be done as early as possible, it makes sense that a lot of the "real" parts aren't ready, but NASA can still test the closest things they have available. Also, this article implies NASA just used an off-the-shelf guidance system, which is not exactly true: the control laws are the same as the ones which the real Ares I will use if it's built.

    In short, although I do not deny that this test was used for political reasons, the test was planned long before the Augustine commission started, and has real engineering value that is critical to the Ares I program, which is definitely not what the above article implies.

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