For the first time, a privately-owned shuttle has docked at the International Space Station in a test run on May 25, and making a water landing on the 31st. The Dragon capsule is being developed by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to carry cargo both to and from the ISS, with funding from NASA.
The capsule was unmanned, carrying cargo from the space station when it landed in the Pacific off the coast of Baja California last Thursday. Eventually, SpaceX officials say, the capsule will be able to hold up to seven astronauts on their way to the ISS or back home to Earth, but will probably not carry astronauts until 2015.
It is important that the capsule survived in its fall back down and not only up. The Dragon is alone among automated cargo capsules worldwide that does not burn up in its fall back to the Earth, which is obviously necessary when bringing cargo back, especially astronauts.
- First SpaceX Dragon Cargo Flight Ends With a Splash (nytimes.com)
- SpaceX Dragon capsule splash lands in Pacific (space-travel.com)
- SpaceX Dragon docking with the space station – in pictures (guardian.co.uk)
- SpaceX Dragon returns to Earth, ends historic trip (sacbee.com)
- ISS astronaut, upon seeing inside SpaceX Dragon vehicle first time: “It looks sci-fi.” (boingboing.net)
Russia‘s space chief, channeling his inner Cold War flashbacks, implied yesterday that a foreign power (*cough cough*United States) may have sabotaged multiple Sovie- I mean Russian- satellites and probes as they flew around the Earth in orbit, away from their tracking systems.
Vladamir Popovkin, chief of Russian space agency Roscosmos, did not name names, but definitely implied that foreign forces messed with Russia’s Phobos-Ground probe, meant to explore Mars’ moon Phobos but due to malfunctions has not made it out of orbit and is expected to fall back to Earth this month. And if things get serious, they may just plan to plant that probe right in the middle of downtown Chicago.
However, the reason most experts believe that the U.S. had nothing to do with the malfunctions is the current state of the Russian space program. The AP reportquotes James Oberg, a NASA veteran, as saying that “Popovkin’s comments were a sad example of the Russian cultural instinct to ‘blame foreigners.'” Most likely, the malfunctions were the result of “obsolete equipment and an aging work force,” the report also said. It seems as if the Russian space program is still built on the old Soviet technology, which we can all see is not going to work for long.
- Phobos-Grunt Mars probe falling to Earth (mnn.com)
- Russia’s space chief says failures may be sabotage (sfgate.com)
- Space Program Sabotaged? (foxnews.com)
Science fiction, when viewing the expansion of the human race to new galaxies and worlds, generally has ignored much of the science and technicality of living on other planets. Probability tells us that there must be other planets somewhere that exhibit extremely similar qualities to our own Earth, but we have not found any yet which are particularly close.
It seems that every other week the Kepler or Hubble telescopes find new planets that are rotating in the “habitable zone” around their stars, the distance at which it is possible to support water. Yet so far, none are confirmed to have any.
Many science fiction authors talk of “terraforming,” or molding planets to be inhabitable. However, much like any future technology, it is easy to simply say it is done and not explain or even think about how it would work. Would water have to be transported by spaceship to the planet? What protection would have to be built to keep the temperature at a habitable level? For that matter, how far would we have to travel to find a planet to inhabit?
The first barrier to the colonization of new planets is the speed of space travel. At the current rate, it took the Apollo astronauts three days just to get to the Moon, which is a trifling distance in the scope of things. Right now it would take 165,000 years just to get to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to us at 4.27 light years. The moon is only 1.27 light-seconds from the Earth.
Once we get there, the problems have only just begun.
- Nasa discovers ‘Star Wars’ planet (telegraph.co.uk)
- Kepler’s mission: Find planets like Earth (mercurynews.com)
- Planet like Earth found in star’s habitable zone (sfgate.com)
- Not just science fiction: Planet orbits 2 suns (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- The obsession with a ‘twin Earth’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Two new Earths and the search for life (cnn.com)
- Discoveries in search for twin Earths (ft.com)
Reuters looks at the Space Shuttle Program by the numbers. The story points out that the entire thirty years of the program only cost just under $200 billion, pocket change compared to some recent government spending. This story points out that Medicare spent just as much in a five-month span in 2010.
However, not everyone is looking at the positives when it comes to cost.
This last flight aboard Atlantis will be the program’s 135, and only a cargo shipping mission. The final flight will be the first since 1983 to only take four astronauts because of the lack of another shuttle if Atlantis is damaged in flight. If that happens, the U.S. would have to requisition the Russian Soyuz, which would be very expensive and could only bring two of them home at a time.
- 30 Years of the Space Shuttle Program (history.com)
- NASA invites Twitter followers to last Space Shuttle launch (geek.com)
- The Inside of a Space Shuttle Flight Deck, The End of an Era (amoebamike.wordpress.com)
- Filmmakers Use Social Media to Record Legacy of the Space Program, Invite the Public to Share Their Memories (pr.com)