The University of Cape Town on Tuesday morning confirmed reports that “four cars were set alight at .
THE US space agency began the countdown yesterday for the test launch of a rocket designed to replace the aging space shuttle fleet and one day take astronauts to the Moon and Mars.
Barring bad weather, a four-hour window will begin at 8am (12pm GMT) for the launch of the Ares I-X rocket from Florida's Kennedy Space Centre, a key test for the future of US space exploration amid deep uncertainty about the programme.
After a "call to stations" to begin the countdown at 1am (5am GMT), the US space agency said some 30 team members began work at Kennedy's Launch Control Centre.
But while Nasa scientists said they had "no issues" with the 100metre prototype, the world's largest at present, the weather could thwart the launch.
The forecast for yesterday showed only a 40percent chance of favourable weather. Nasa needs just 15 minutes of good weather to launch.
If weather concerns cloud the test launch, the next window will be today, when the forecast is 60percent favourable. The flight will be delayed until next month if bad weather persists.
The flight, Nasa said, will allow the agency to "test and prove hardware, models, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I launch vehicle," which is seen as a first step in US human space flight after the shuttle is retired.
Nasa will gather data collected by more than 700 sensors placed throughout the rocket during the ascent of the integrated stack. Only the first stage of Ares I-X - a modified solid-fuel motor from the shuttle programme - will be tested, while the upper stage and capsule are mock ups.
Data obtained during the two-and-a-half-minute flight will help the US space agency determine whether the prototype is safe and stable in flight before the new generation of launch vehicles is used to take astronauts into orbit.
A team of experts has projected that will not happen before 2015, leaving a five-year gap after the shuttle is retired in 2010.
The test launch comes as the White House studies a report by a high-level commission set up by President Barack Obama to review plans for post-shuttle human space flight established by his predecessor George W Bush.
The panel chaired by Norman Augustine, a former executive at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, concluded that the US human space flight programme "appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory" and was seeking to achieve goals not matched by resources.
The Ares rocket has suffered major development problems, and its hefty price tag has fueled criticism of Nasa, an agency notorious for its cost overruns.
The initial budget for the Constellation programme, which includes Ares rockets, was set at R214billion, but has swollen to at least R337billion. - Sapa-AFP