Good news—private, corporate space flight company Orbital ATK successfully docked their spacecraft with the international space station last month. Good news—Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard spacecraft managed to land itself on a launch pad in recent weeks.
Not so great? Elon Musk’s SpaceX craft has been grounded since it exploded during what Musk called a ‘rapid, unscheduled disassembly’ while attempting a landing earlier this year. But the Falcon 9 rocket has been updated, and now sits on a Cape Canaveral pad awaiting launch tomorrow night.
So maybe NASA’s not up to as much as it once was. But, given the strides countries like China and India have made in the last year—and the progress made by private interests…it may be that our dreams of a future in space are more realistic than ever before.
After nine years in space—a trip covering 5 billion kilometres—NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to distant Pluto this morning.
New Horizon’s has already beamed back pictures of Pluto and its five moons. But tonight it will transmit—hopefully—the final all clear signal indicating that it has survived it’s epic journey to the edge of the solar system in fine shape. A journey that took so long that Pluto itself was demoted from full-fledged planet to dwarf status during the voyage.
The year started out with China’s little Jade Rabbit rover capturing the world’s imagination as it fought valiantly for survival on the frigid surface of the moon. Now, as the days grow short we have an explosion of new space news… Here’s a quick recap of space-related happenings in the last month or so.
Chinese rocket launched to circle moon in preparation for 2017 moon landing…
It cost India less than three-quarters as much to send the probe to the red planet as the US spends to build one stealth fighter—which can only fly 1700 km before needing to gas up. Compare that to India’s econo-craft which made it 670 million km on a single tank. The probe, called Mangalyaan (meaning Mars craft in Hindi) is already taking shots of the Martian surface.
For those of you keeping score, that’s MAVEN and Mangalyaan currently in orbit—with the Curiosity rover on the surface. And it was Curiosity who took to twitter to welcome Mangalyaan with a quick, “Namaste.”
China’s Jade Rabbit Moon Rover may have touched hearts around the world…now the Americans are taking the next step in the space game. The USA’s MAVEN robotic probe may not have the personality that made Jade Rabbit so popular, but its mission is no less important. The probe completed final braking on Sunday to slide into its orbit around the red planet. The plan is for MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution probe) to examine the planet’s upper atmosphere in order to help us understand how the solar wind has been stripping away atoms and molecules for ages.
MAVEN looks to turn back the clock and give us a glimpse into the deep history of our nearest neighbor. Perhaps helping us see what it used to look like and where all its water went…
It’s getting weird again….Seems like the past twelve months have brought us more than the usual number of oddball fossil finds, each of which is making scientists reexamine their dinosaur assumptions.
This time the earth-shaking find is a Spinosaurus. Scientists are calling it the biggest dinosaur predator ever found—some 9 feet longer than a T Rex. And even weirder, it didn’t hunt on two legs. It’s the only known quadrupedal carnivore.
So, it’s huge and getting around on all fours—now for the bizarre…It had a 7 foot high bony sail on its back and spent much of its time in the water feeding on sharks, crocodiles and fish the size of Volkswagen Jettas… And, oh yeah, it could swim and had nostrils on top of its skull.
Yeah, I’d say that might cause a bit of a rethink. There’s never been anything else like it.
Meanwhile, in other breaking news—Mammals existed 40 million years earlier than previously thought.