REUTERS - An unmanned NASA rocket intended to help develop a new space taxi service to the moon streaked into the sky on Wednesday for a brief two-minute test flight.
The 327-foot (100-meter) Ares 1-X rocket, currently the world’s tallest, blasted off at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT) from a modified space shuttle launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The slim white craft powered into the blue sky over Florida on a column of flame and smoke.
“That was just unbelieveable, that was fantastic, I’ve just got tears in my eyes,” Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana told the launch team.
Firing its motors for just over two minutes, the rocket flew to an altitude of 28 miles (45 km) and reached a speed nearly five times the speed of sound.
It parachuted back down into the Atlantic Ocean, where it was to be recovered by a NASA ship.
The new demo rocket is the centerpiece of a $445 million NASA program to verify designs for vehicles intended to replace the agency’s retiring space shuttles.
In addition to ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station 225 miles (360 km) above Earth, the booster is intended to be part of a system to fly astronauts to the moon and other destinations in the solar system.
The space shuttles are due to be retired next year after six more missions to complete the space station.