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Category Archives: Spaceflight

SpaceX Says It Will Fly Humans Past the Moon in 2018 (But It Still Must Meet NASA’s Needs)

Illustration of a Falcon Heavy launch from KSC’s Pad 39A, the first of which is planned for summer 2017. (Credit: SpaceX)

On Monday, Feb. 27, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced plans for his company to send two privately-paying “space tourists” on a trip around the Moon in late 2018. According to Musk it’s a voyage that would send them, aboard SpaceX’s still-in-development Dragon 2 spacecraft, on a “long loop” past the Moon and out to about 400,000 miles before returning—farther than any of NASA’s Apollo missions and even farther into space than any humans have ever traveled.

This announcement came as a surprise to many people, especially those who know the amazingly enthusiastic nature of a late 2018 target and how much work yet remains for a crewed version of the Dragon spacecraft, especially considering SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has yet to launch.

SpaceX’s news release on Monday was quickly met by one from NASA, with whom the company is currently under contract to develop human transportation capabilities for transport to the Space Station and whose taxpayer-provided funding is paying for development of the Dragon vehicle. SpaceX has yet to launch Dragon 2 or achieve human rating from NASA, even though it was slated to begin flying astronauts to Station next year.

“We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station,” said NASA’s representatives—somewhat pointedly—in a responsive press release.

This news also happened to come just a couple of weeks after a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested that delays by SpaceX and Boeing—the two companies contracted to provide astronaut transportation to the ISS for NASA—will likely push any U.S. launches past 2018, requiring yet more Soyuz seats for American astronauts.

I don’t have any insider information from either SpaceX or NASA, but I can’t help but wonder how the former plans to achieve a 2018 launch of a crewed Dragon 2, and if the latter wonders if its needs—and the needs of the country—are being overlooked in favor of additional profit (which, admittedly, SpaceX as a privately-funded company relies upon.) In addition, is this putting Dragon 2 in direct competition with NASA’s Orion spacecraft?

“By putting forth the idea that its Dragon spacecraft could essentially fly the same mission as Orion for much, much less than the government, SpaceX is boldly telling the Trump administration that the private sector could get the job done if Orion were axed from the space agency’s budget to cut costs,” writes space journalist Eric Berger on Ars Technica.

Read more in this story from Eric Berger here: SpaceX plans to send two people around the Moon in late 2018

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Voyager 1’s Famous Long-Distance Valentine

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990 (Credit: NASA)

If you’re in love with space then you’ll fall head over heels for this: it’s a picture of Earth taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it passed the orbit of Pluto back in 1990—on Valentine’s Day, no less. That image of our planet from almost 4 billion miles away inspired Carl Sagan to write his famous “Pale Blue Dot” passage, which reminds us that we are all just riding on “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

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Seeds From Space: The Moon Trees of Apollo 14

Splashdown of Apollo 14 in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 9, 1971 (NASA)

Splashdown of Apollo 14 in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 9, 1971. (NASA)

On Feb. 9, 1971, Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard, Jr., Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell returned to Earth, their command module Kitty Hawk splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 21:05 UT (4:05 p.m. EST). They were recovered by the USS New Orleans (LPH-11) and returned to the U.S. by way of American Samoa. But the three men weren’t the only living creatures to return from space that day… in fact, human astronauts were in the minority.

Al, Stu, and Ed also shared their lunar voyage with nearly 500 trees.

Read the full story on Universe Today here.

A Heck of a Leap: When Bruce McCandless Became the First Human Satellite

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) in February 1984 (NASA)

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) on February 7, 1984 (NASA)

On Feb. 7, 1984, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Propelled via 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the MMU allowed McCandless (who was instrumental in developing the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel freely through space. In the iconic photo above McCandless is seen floating against the blackness of space, 320 feet (98 meters) away from the Challenger orbiter…and 217 miles (350 km) above the Earth!

A former U.S. Navy captain, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free EVA.

“May well have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me!”
– STS-41B Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, Feb. 7, 1984

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New Horizons Fine-Tunes Its Course for MU69

Artist’s concept of New Horizons approaching 2014 MU69 (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

A little goes a long way—especially when you’re traveling 51,000 mph! On Feb. 1, 2017 NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed a 44-second thruster burn that adjusted its course by just under 1 mph toward its next target, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.

“One mile per hour may not sound like much,” said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, “but over the next 23 months, as we approach MU69, that maneuver will add up to an aim point refinement of almost six thousand miles (10,000 kilometers).”

New Horizons made its closest pass by Pluto on July 14, 2015. It will perform a similar flyby of the much smaller MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019.

Read the full story from NASA here: New Horizons Refines Course for Next Flyby

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