Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Beyond this point (hopefully) be Dragons

In the post-Shuttle era, as you will recall, the US has no way to deliver cargo or astronauts to the International Space Station (which, despite its name, was mostly designed and paid for by NASA). I've vented in this blog more than once (as in "Move 'em on. Head 'em out. Rawhide!" and "Crocodile cheers") about retiring the Shuttle before a replacement spacecraft was at hand.

How does stuff get to the ISS? Some cargo arrives on the soon-to-be-discontinued EU automated transfer vehicle. The remaining cargo and all crew reaches the ISS by writing large checks to the Russians.  More than a half century after America first put a man in orbit. It's just sad.

In a museum near you.
(Not that the shuttle was perfect. See "5 Horrifying Facts You Didn't Know About the Space Shuttle."

At long last -- with, to be fair, encouragement and seed money from NASA -- partial US capability may be restored. After several delays, "NASA Greenlights SpaceX ISS Visit for May 19" (SpaceX's cargo capsule being the Dragon of today's subject line). By week's end (if all goes well), Dragon will have made an uneventful delivery and returned to Earth.

Even before the first attempt at a private cargo delivery to the ISS, Congress is second-guessing the competition to develop a crew-rated capability. See "House bill directs NASA to scrap commercial crew competition." As in pick the winner now, before any company has flown a crew-rated spacecraft.

Even as more companies move forward into space ...

Alliant Techsystems for one:
The aerospace company that built the solid rocket boosters for NASA's space shuttle fleet announced plans Tuesday to develop its own private launch system — a spaceship and rocket — to fly astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. The first manned flight could launch in about three years, company officials said.
(For details, see, "Space veterans announce Liberty rocket, target 2015 launch."

Meanwhile, secretive private aerospace company Blue Origin parted the veils a little. See "Jeff Bezos's 'Blue Origin' Space Company Reveals Spacecraft Design."

And a few days ago, "Boeing Performs Drop Test of its New Space Capsule."

Artist rendering, Bigelow Aerospace.
What about somewhere new to go in space? There's news on that front, too, as "SpaceX to Offer Trips to Private Space Stations."

Private space stations? Indeed. SpaceX's partner, Bigelow Aerospace, has had its Genesis-1 prototype in orbit since 2006.

Thinking sad thoughts about the never-was Superconducting Super Collider, let's hope Congress manages not to strangle the private-space-ventures baby in its cradle ...

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