The first test launch of the Ares 1 rocket, scheduled for July or August, will be a crucial step in the evolution of the U.S. space program. The unmanned prototype will include only a partial first stage, designed to lift mockups of the upper stages about 25 miles above Earth. "This launch will tell us what we got right and what we got wrong in the design and analysis phase," says an Ares program official. "We need those two minutes of flight data before NASA can continue to the next phase of rocket development."
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