Flying with the mothership

VSS Enterprise
VSS Enterprise

VSS Enterprise, aka WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo attached together, succeeded in completing its first flight. The test flight only checked out that the mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, can fly properly while carrying the spaceship, SpaceShipTwo. It did not test if SpaceShipTwo will detach properly from WhiteKnightTwo during actual flight. Neither did it test out the rocket engine on SpaceShipTwo that will blast it into space. And even if all the tests succeed without a glitch, SpaceShipTwo will only achieve suborbital flight, being unable to accelerate to a high enough speed to achieve orbit. So the news is only interesting rather than exciting.

Still, it is a great first step towards suborbital space tourism, where reaching the boundaries of space would be a very expensive dream instead of a complete pipe dream to an ordinary person like myself.

Cupola on the ISS

With the installation of the cupola attached to the Tranquility module on the International Space Station, I know what I will definitely be taking a look at if I ever visit the space station. (I can dream, can't I?) With its much more open view compared to the tiny viewports that were already on the space station, the cupola provides a beautiful platform for looking outside at Earth or at space.

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AMS heading up this summer

Made and assembled in Switzerland…
AMS-2 in Switzerland

The International Space Station has been an enormously expensive structure in orbit that took over a decade to construct. Despite the enormous expense, however, its scientific capabilities are somewhat lackluster. So it's exciting to hear that the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a superconducting detector which can study cosmic rays, is heading to the ISS in July. It will be a three-year experiment that could contribute greatly to the study of dark matter and antimatter in the universe. And to think that it almost got cancelled due to the lack of a shuttle flight ...

About Constellation's cancellation

The Constellation program was proposed in 2004 as a program to return humans to the Moon through the development of two new rockets and a whole slew of new hardware. Unfortunately, the administration at the time neglected to allocate much funding for the program, which forced NASA to cut funding to a lot of other programs to operate Constellation with a shoestring budget (even increasing NASA's budget to what amounts to occupying Iraq for about a week was apparently too much). It didn't help that the Augustine Commission had a less than stellar opinion of the program.

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Spirit no longer roving

The Mars Spirit Rover has been stuck for months in a sand trap, and it hasn't helped that one of the wheels were broken in the first place while another wheel broke down as well. Efforts to get Spirit out of the sand trap now have finally been given up. Considering that it has roamed around Mars for six years (albeit over very small distances), far longer than its original three-month planned lifespan, that ain't so bad. And even with the Spirit rover being stuck, it will now be serving as a static station observing the Martian weather and seismological activity. Not to mention that Opportunity is still roving ...