MARCIA DUNN AP Aerospace Writer CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.
NASA's newest rocket blasted off on a brief test flight this morning, taking the first step in a back-to-the-moon program that could be shelved by the White House. The 327-foot Ares I-X rocket resembled a giant white pencil as it shot into the sky, delayed a day by poor weather. Nearly twice the height of the spaceship it's supposed to replace the shuttle the experimental rocket carried no passengers or payload, only throwaway ballast and hundreds of sensors. The flight cost $445 million. It was the first time in nearly 30 years that a new rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center. Columbia made the maiden voyage for the shuttle fleet back in 1981. Liftoff, in fact, occurred 48 years and one day after the first launch of a Saturn rocket, a precursor to what carried astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program. The Saturn V moon rockets were the tallest ever built, an impressive 363 feet. Today's launch, years in the making, attracted a large crowd. The prototype moon rocket took off from a former shuttle launch pad at 11:30 a.m., three and a half hours late because of bad weather. Launch controllers had to retest the rocket systems after more than 150 lightning strikes were reported around the pad overnight. Then they had to wait out interfering clouds.