In pictures: 20 key NASA projects in 2009

From the space shuttle and Mars mission to water on the moon and ice on the Earth, NASA has its hands in a variety of critical projects

We have a rocket (sort of): With a hiss and roar NASA's protoype Ares X rocket blasted off in October, taking with it a variety of test equipment and sensors but also high hopes for the future of the U.S. space agency. The short test flight -- about 2 minutes -- provided NASA an early opportunity to look at hardware, models, facilities and ground operations associated with the mostly new Ares I launch vehicle. The mission went off without a hitch – except for its return parachutes, which failed to deploy -- as the upper stage simulator and first stage separated at approximately 130,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. The unpowered simulator splashed down in the ocean.

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