The Hubble Space Telescope has sniffed out evidence of complex carbon molecules, the building blocks of life in this corner of the cosmos, lying on the frozen surface of Pluto. The distant dwarf world is known to harbor methane ice and other frigid compounds, but this is the first time scientists have suggested there could be other complex carbon chemicals, too.
Besides amateur camera-balloons, it's pretty difficult to get a viable science experiment into space. You need to buy a launch vehicle, license it, find a place to launch from, protect your payload, and get permission to actually launch, for starters. In the past, you might have partnered with NASA to do this, but it's never been easy to win federal support for a rocket or space station excursion, and it's about to get even harder after the space shuttles retire this summer.
But the transition away from the shuttle is promising for experimenters, as a new generation of privately built and operated spacecraft is poised to take over. The commercial space tourism industry will transform the way scientists study microgravity, offering lower prices and greater convenience than anything the government can provide. Scientists will no longer need to apply to NASA to do their experiments. Even better, they won't have to join the astronaut corps to get to space in person, a paradigm shift that could make cutting-edge research much more widely accessible.
The commercial space industry has booked its first science expeditions, the Southwest Research Institute announced today. At least two researchers have tickets to fly on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, with another six seats on reserve, and the team also reserved six flights on an XCOR Lynx I rocket plane.
These safety upgrades, and tons of cash, could get the space shuttle flying again.
By Dawn StoverPosted 06.20.2003 at 1:20 pm 0 Comments
The final report from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board is due this month, and NASA meanwhile is conducting its own review in preparation for a return to flight. Both are expected to point the finger at a chunk of foam insulation that struck the shuttle's wing during launch.