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UPDATE (April 23, 2010): The X-37B was successfully launched at 19:52 EDT (23:52 GMT) yesterday, April 22.
The program started as a NASA effort to build a crew taxi for the International Space Station. Cancelled after President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004, it was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and then to the Air Force. In a media teleconference yesterday, Gary Payton, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs said that the mission duration is still up in the air: "In all honesty, we don't know when it's coming back." The spaceplace will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA or Edwards Air Force Base, CA when it does return, and Payton emphasized that what they want to learn from the program is as much about what happens on the ground as in space.
Jim Oberg has an interesting take on MSNBC today on why commercial space taxis may be easier to build than many people think. He points out that with the decision to use Orion technology to build a Crew Return Vehicle, for example, the commercial taxis will not have to be designed with an on-orbit dwell time of six months as do Russia's Soyuz. spacecraft. They have a relatively simple and straightfoward mission and, he argues, the spacecraft could be "spartan" from a comfort perspective -- like food.
Surely not everyone will agree with Oberg. He suggests that the spacecraft would only have to be capable of independent flight for 24 hours, with a maximum emergency flight time of 48 hours. One can certainly imagine contingencies that would take more time than that to resolve. Perhaps Oberg's most provocative suggestion is that sometimes failure might indeed be an option: "There should be no compromise when it comes to reducing the risk of crew injury or death. But the risks of mission failure should most definitely be re-evaluated under these new circumstances. Failure may sometimes be an option."
UPDATE 2: The shuttle landed safe and sound.
NASA is targeting 7:34 am EDT Tuesday for landing Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-131) according to NASA's space shuttle website. Landing was postponed on Monday due to bad weather at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), FL. A second opportunity for landing at KSC would be 9:08 am EDT. Three other landing opportunities are avaiilable at Edwards Air Force Base, CA if bad weather in Florida persists.
South Korea's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has chosen June 9 as the date for the next launch of the country's KSLV-1 (or Naro-1) rocket according to the Yonhap News Service. The first launch attempt failed last year when the second stage fairing did not separate properly. The rocket's first stage is built by Russia; the second stage by South Korea. The June 9 launch from the Naro Space Center, about 500 kilometers south of Seoul, is designed to place a scientific satellite into orbit. The launch window runs through June 19.
NASA has waved off the shuttle landing for the first opportunity this morning because of poor weather conditions, but is still hoping that it can land during the second opportunity at 10:23 am EDT. The deorbit burn would take place at 9:17 am if the weather looks like it will cooperate. If not, there are two landing opportunities at Kennedy Space Center tomorrow, and three at Edwards Air Force Base.
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. For further information, check our calendar on the right menu or click the links below. Times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for up to date information.
Tuesday-Wednesday, Apr. 20-21
Wednesday, Apr. 21
Thursday, Apr. 22
Space Shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday and is preparing for landing at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) tomorrow, Monday, at 8:48 am EDT. The seven member crew of STS-131 delivered seven tons of equipment and supplies to the ISS during the 10 days it was docked there. The weather forecast for KSC tomorrow morning is iffy, however. There are two landing opportunities at KSC in the morning, and two more Tuesday morning. The shuttle also could be diverted to Edwards Air Force Base, CA if necessary, with three landing opportunities there on Tuesday.
Only three more shuttle flights are scheduled:
STS-134 will launch a scientific experiment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). It is still undergoing final testing in Europe, where it was built, and some issues have arisen that could delay its launch.
National Public Radio (NPR) devoted its Science Friday show to reaction to the President's speech about NASA's future. The guests were Elon Musk of SpaceX, Bill Adkins of Adkins Strategies, and Howard McCurdy of American University (currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Washington). A tape of the program is available at Science Friday's website.
Having spent the day returning from covering the President's speech in Florida, we are just catching up on reaction to it. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here are links to Jeff Foust's roundup of congressional and other statements on Spacepolitics.com and to Keith Cowing's on NASAWatch.
Events of Interest