PROMONTORY -- In a long, skinny building on a Box Elder County hill sat one chilly rocket for most of the summer.
Then, in the time it takes to say "blastoff," it turned from freezing to 5,000 degrees on that hill as Alliant Techsystems tested its newest rocket motor in a fiery, two-minute burn.
"It's not every day you get to fire up a 20-million horsepower motor," said Kevin Rees, ATK director of test services.
As the white-hot flame died out, smoke billowed from the horizontal rocket and the workers, watching with a clear view from one mile away, cheered.
The $75 million test on Tuesday, which started at 9:37 a.m., comes at a time of uncertainty for the company and NASA.
But as Congress debates with President Barack Obama over the financing and future of space exploration, ATK workers reveled in what they described as an initially successful mission to collect data on the five-segment motor.
That data still needs to be fully examined.
"It's a very proud day for us," said Charlie Precourt, general manager of ATK Aerospace Systems, Space Launch Systems.
Since July 6, the rocket has been waiting to fire up, sitting in a Promontory test bay that was air conditioned to 20 degrees.
NASA and ATK officials said the main test objective from the static motor firing was measuring the first-stage rocket's performance at cold temperatures.
The test was aimed at verifying the performance of new materials in the motor joints at the lowest range of operational temperatures.
"Ground testing at temperature extremes pushes this system to its limits, which advances our understanding of the motor's performance," said Alex Priskos, a NASA official and Salt Lake City native.
The solid propellant motor, titled Ares, was commissioned for use by NASA, which had named the overall program Constellation. A version of the Ares motor was tested last fall, but whether the Constellation program goes anywhere beyond terra firma is on slippery political footing
NASA officials at the test site could only say the space agency had budgeted for the next version of the ATK booster rocket while it waits on Congress for a yearly spending plan.
ATK hopes its motor will boost a rocket into low Earth orbit, or maybe space.
"The plan that we have in place concentrates on capabilities of human space flight," said Doug Cooke, a NASA associate administrator.
ATK has more than 2,000 workers dedicated to the new line of motor development.
But since April 2009, more than 1,500 people have left the company, voluntarily or otherwise, after defense and aerospace cutbacks in the shuttle and other missile programs.
Precourt said the company has contingency plans prepared as the political debate settles out, perhaps by late fall or the first of the year.
But company officials made it clear those plans and the fate of future workers are dependent on the funding and policy decisions of a Congress wrestling with the White House over new directions for building rockets.
Despite the uncertainty, the spectacle of the day was not to be ignored.
"It was absolutely awesome," said Jacqueline Whitesides, who drove from Alabama to Utah with her husband to see the blazing test of raw pushing power.
Another static test of the next iteration of the rocket motor is scheduled, should the temporary Congressional funding plan stay in place, for late next summer. That test would be of the motor under heated conditions.