Space Age comeback?
Glenn Reynolds writes: Space entrepreneur Peter Bigelow, who’s working on hotels in space, wants the Trump Administration to sharply increase NASA spending. But although I’m all in favor of making America’s space program great again, I’m not so sure that pumping money into NASA is the way to do it. For that matter, I’m not even sure that the term “space program” makes much sense in the 21st century.
Rather than a space program, what we really have is a package of space policies. Unlike the Apollo era, when the nation was fixed on a single major goal of landing men on the Moon before 1970, we now want a bunch of different things, all of them important, but no single one of them is our sole focus. And, honestly, much of what’s going on at NASA isn’t even close to overridingly important.
The good news is that, as I’ve noted before, space — at least the burgeoning commercial space industry — has been one of the Obama Administration’s notable policy successes. Where not long ago the United States was looking at an aging fleet of increasingly dangerous space shuttles, we now have a flourishing collection of private companies providing transportation into earth orbit, from SpaceX, to Blue Origin, to Virgin Galactic, to a number of smaller companies. (Full disclosure: I own a small amount of friends-and-family stock in one of those smaller companies, XCOR Aerospace). Moon Express even plans to land a robot on the Moon.
Melody Petersen reports: Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent a cargo capsule loaded with International Space Station supplies into orbit Saturday morning, but the company’s unprecedented attempt to set down the craft’s first-stage rocket on an ocean barge was rocky and damaged the booster.
“Rocket made it to the drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.”
— Elon Musk
Within minutes, the cargo-filled capsule separated from the first-stage booster rocket and continued on its way to orbit and rendezvous with the space station.
That was when SpaceX attempted what had never been done: flying the 13-story booster back to Earth and landing it upright on an ocean barge.
The booster made it to the barge, but Musk tweeted that some of the vessel’s equipment was damaged by the impact. “Ship itself is fine,” he wrote. “Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced.”
“Didn’t get good landing/impact video,” he tweeted. “Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.”
Hawthorne-based SpaceX hopes to one day be able to reuse the first stage, which includes the expensive and powerful engines needed to blast the capsule to orbit. The planned landing and recovery of the first stage is part of Musk’s goal to eventually be able to refly the same spacecraft many times, greatly lowering the cost of space flight. Read the rest of this entry »
Holman Jenkins writes: ‘Interstellar,” the space opera starring Matthew McConaughey, adopts a post-’60s view of space. Space is not a final, limitless frontier of a questing humanity. It’s a final, desperate refuge for humans escaping a ravaged earth.
In this, the new movie is an ideological laggard to 2009’s “Avatar,” in which humanity was already ravaging new planets.
But why spend money on space at all, people like Mr. Kluger will ask, when Viagra copays are going up?
As the dinosaurs could testify, however, nothing in puny human destructiveness is a match for the ecological transformations that nature can unleash in an instant. The most certain danger to our species’ longevity is not our own technology. It’s still an errant rock or other cosmic mishap, like the massive gamma-ray bursts a new study suggests will befall a planet in the Milky Way every billion years or so. Which brings us naturally to SpaceShipTwo.
One giant step toward the kind of human permanence we should care about is already the fact that our culture, dating back to cave paintings, is now digitizeable. But how to carry this record of our creativity forth so somebody, somewhere will always appreciate what we’ve accomplished, especially if it turns out we are the only intelligent species we’ll ever discover?
The “I told you so” crowd was out in force in the first hours after last week’s crash, blaming the ship’s low-cost hybrid motor burning solid nylon with a nitrous oxidizer. A day later, government investigators indicated no obvious problem with the motor and pointed to an unplanned deployment of an aero-braking system. Read the rest of this entry »
SpaceShipTwo crash investigation may take up to a year
(CNN) — The surviving co-pilot in the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo disaster is “alert” and speaking, the company that partnered with Virgin on the test flight program said Sunday.
“Because it was a test flight, it was heavily documented…we may have lots of evidence that will help us with the investigative process, and we appreciate that.”
— National Transportation Safety Board acting Chairman Christopher Hart
But while Peter Siebold appears to be recovering after the accident, not much is known about what caused the spacecraft’s apparent in-flight breakup. At least not yet.
A team of 13 to 15 investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will be on site in the Mojave Desert for about a week. But analyzing the data from the test aircraft will take much longer.
We’re one step closer to being able to cruise at 2,500 mph and experience five minutes of weightlessness 364,000 feet above the Earth — if you happen to have a quarter of a million dollars lying around, that is.