The success or failure of the Ares I-X launch, scheduled for Wednesday at 7 a.m. CDT, is intertwined with Decatur’s future.
Failure would likely mean the end of the Ares I program. Soundly criticized last week by a presidential commission, Ares I may be off the table even if the two-minute test flight of the Ares I-X is a success. A failure would make scrapping the Ares I an easy mission for its opponents.
Some believe killing the program would cripple America’s role in manned space exploration. Even on a local level, loss of the Ares I would be a blow. Many in Decatur work for Marshall Space Flight Center, which manages the Ares program. Many more work for Huntsville-based contractors involved in the project.
If the Obama Administration scraps the Ares I, however, Decatur could reap some benefits. The Augustine Commission pointed to two rocket systems as the most likely alternatives to the Ares I: the Atlas V and the Delta IV. United Launch Alliance assembles both at its 630-employee Decatur plant. Not only would the option increase Decatur employment, it would increase the city’s high-tech profile. Astronauts’ lives would depend on the skill of Decatur workers.
If you have access to NASA TV, watch the dramatic show. If not, I will be posting updates on this Twitter-enabled blog. My updates will come from the telecast and from NASA’s own blog. I am not the best aerospace source, but my posts will be from a uniquely Decatur perspective.