With a crucial test flight of its Falcon 9 rocket and an unmanned Dragon capsule slated for later this month, commercial space outfit SpaceX is nearing the crescendo of its unmanned space launch program--a robotic rendezvous with the International Space Station. Next up for SpaceX: doing the exact same thing, but this time delivering humans rather than cargo into orbit.
With Mars500 now behind us, NASA is dialing up its own Mars mission simulation in conjunction with Cornell and the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Unlike Mars500, the NASA-sponsored sim won’t run the full 520 days estimated as necessary to complete a real Mars mission. But the four-month simulation will focus very heavily on one critical aspect of any future manned voyage to deep space: food.
The journey toward a Chinese space station has taken a huge step forward. Yesterday China’s Shenzou 8 spacecraft, which launched earlier this week, successfully docked with the country’s Tiangong-1 space module, which was placed in orbit by an earlier launch. The successful docking maneuver demonstrated a leap forward for China’s manned space program, and the first in a series of missions designed to test technologies that China hopes to cultivate into a manned space station by decade’s end.
Last Friday, we bade adieu to NASA's 30-year Space Shuttle program as Atlantis lifted off for the very last time. Practical or not, the loss of our capacity for manned spaceflight is a little depressing for those of us who uphold interstellar travel as the paragon of human progress. While we can respect NASA's decision to prioritize other projects, we can hardly fathom how something as futuristic as human space travel ended up becoming a part of our country's past.
Ironically enough, the past can look a whole lot like a distant tomorrow when you study it through our 138-year archives. So until NASA can afford to send humans back into space, let's reminisce on the agency's golden age by flicking through our most dazzling space features.