Budget concerns, timelines, and technology limitations have got NASA in a real tight spot for its future manned launch vehicle, the Ares-1. We at White Label Space, like many others around the world, have a feeling that this rocket might never fly in its current configuration with the long skinny shuttle-derived booster supporting the fat upper stage. No rocket like this has ever been launched into space so we made this poll to sample the public opinion on this design.
There are some good reasons why launch vehicles tend to have tapered shapes (where the base is thicker than the top and not the other way around!). At supersonic and hypersonic speeds, tapering gives additional aerodynamic static stability. Also, having a wider lower stage helps to support the higher structural loads that it must transmit. Last we heard, NASA is trying to implement electromagnetic mass absorbers to overcome the structural dynamics problems with the current design, although an active vibration control system of this size has never flown to space, let alone on a man-rated launch vehicle.
Perhaps NASA will give up the stick Ares-1 and define a more realistic baseline with a wider first stage, perhaps something more like the Gemini launcher.