I just saw a video where the Attitude Control Motor for the Orion Crew Vehicle Launch Abort System was tested, and I was pretty impressed with how the exhaust of the rocket was controlled. On the other hand, since it's part of the escape system when something goes drastically wrong with a launch, I find myself hoping that it never actually needs to be used ...
Russian engineers are considering using a rocket-powered landing system for the their next-generation manned spacecraft that could replace the Soyuz capsule. One would think that a purely rocket-based system would be much more expensive than the parachutes that Soyuz currently uses, but Russia has a political reason for it. Russia's spaceport is in another country, Kazakhstan, so they would really like to move it to within its own borders. However, there is not much land area where a spacecraft could touch down around the new spaceport, so they would need a landing system much more precise than that of uncontrolled parachutes.
This brings to mind the fact that Russia has to depend on a foreign country, Kazakhstan, for its manned space program. This adds more complexity to the United States' manned space program once the Space Shuttle is retired: not only would the United States have to maintain good relations with Russia to maintain its manned space program, but it also needs to hope that Russia is on good enough terms with Kazakhstan.
Not that having all the infrastructure for a manned space program in one's own country would necessarily help. Russia and Kazakhstan were once part of one country, after all. It could get complicated for NASA if Texas really were to secede from the union and took the mission control center with it ...
Via the Bad Astronomer, I learned about the cool music video that SpaceX has released showing footage from their successful launch of the Falcon 1 rocket. I'm going to put it on my iPod. Falcon 1 is the first successful rocket that was privately designed from scratch to reach orbit. It looks like a bargain compared to existing rockets maintained by national governments, with an $8 million price tag for about a half a ton payload.
I'm also looking forward to a successful launch of their planned Falcon 9 rocket with anticipation. If things work out, then we could have manned space flights by a purely private company within a few years. Not to mention that NASA would have a relatively cheap way to put people in space when the Shuttle is retired, without having to rely on Russia.
I do have a secret desire to see Japan's proposed $10 billion project for a space elevator succeed. It's rather far-fetched but within the realm of possibility: I might actually be able to afford to reach orbit within my lifetime.