SpaceX sighting over Arizona

Sometime during early February, Arizona residents saw what looked to be a rocket in the sky. People flocked to social media to speculate about what they saw. The strange object these Arizonans saw in the sky would turn out to be the SpaceX launch. What a sight!
(1) Fish, Nathan

Can Richard Branson Make Space Travel Available to the General Public?

Many people grow up dreaming of going to space. If you asked a class of kindergarteners what they would like to be when they grow up, I guarantee you that most them would say that they wanted to be an astronaut. As we grow up, reality sets in and our dreams of going up into space begin to dwindle. For the average person, becoming an astronaut is a statistically improbable plight. Each year, NASA
receives around 2,000 submissions of highly qualified applicants who want to become astronauts. Only around 10 percent of them are picked. If you are thinking, “Hey, that’s not so bad!”, keep in mind that you need at least a bachelor’s degree in math, engineering or a hard physical science and
they also require you to have either three years of job experience of 1,000 hours of experience being a pilot-in-command of a jet aircraft. There are only around 50 astronauts actively working for NASA at the moment. While becoming an astronaut remains to be a pipe dream to many, not everyone who wants to go to space has aspirations of working for NASA. Many would like to explore space out of sheer curiosity. It is a place unknown to most of us and many wish to see it up-close and in person. Many are also eager for new space technology due to global warming. At a time where our planet’s environment is suffering, with a recent slew of natural disasters; many are discussing the possibility of us needing to leave planet Earth in the future. Many are hoping to go to space for a variety of reasons. Luckily for us, Richard Branson and the Virgin Group aim to make our dreams of space exploration come true!

Virgin Galactic is a proposed company within the Virgin Group, which intends to offer a flight to space to everyday citizens, for an extremely hefty fee of around $250,000. Founded in 2004, this company aims to bring something to consumers which has never been seen before. Virgin is attempting to pioneer space tourism. The notorious entrepreneur Richard Branson has once again brought forth an innovative idea, bringing forth a space travel industry. Richard Branson has always fostered innovation with his Virgin empire and he aims to bring something to the economy; a kind of travel which has never been made available to the general public before. The highly imaginative and ambitious businessman has created this company in hopes of providing space exploration as an explorative commodity. The company has seen many delays within regards to their first launch, but it hopes to be the first in the industry of commercial space travel.

Virgin Galactic’s website states that only a couple of hundred people have made it to space. The company stated that it aims to make space travel and exploration available to the rest of us. Virgin Atlantic has created and designed multiple space vehicles which aim to bring us up, up and away! These two spaceships are the SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo.

Virgin Galactic also highly prioritizes the safety of it’s potential customers and it proposes that each potential flyer must undergo a 3-day space training course prior to boarding the spaceship.

The company has been looking into collaborating with NASA, but this has yet to happen. The launch of Virgin Galactic has been postponed and delayed for years now. Virgin Galactic has long surpassed its’ original, proposed launch dates. While this news has disappointed many wannabe astronauts, it is to be expected for such a complicated and potentially dangerous idea. Consumer safety comes first and this kind of business venture is not one which should be taken lightly. Can Virgin Galactic make it? Only time will tell.

Want to Go to Space — What Will it Cost?

For nearly a century science fiction writers have predicted commercial space travel. They imagined consumers taking an interstellar cruise or simply hopping a shuttle from the earth to the moon for a vacation. Back in 1964 one science newsletter predicted that earthlings would be jaunting up to a space station by 1980 — for$11,700 which translates to about $90,000 in 2014 dollars.

Now, we know that space tourism isn’t a reality yet, but it will be by the end of the decade. Experts predict that 2020 is the year that private companies will begin sending people into space. It will likely be a quick trip out of the atmosphere, with a mere five minutes experiencing zero gravity before returning to land, but it still counts as space travel.

Billionaires in Space

The uber rich are already finding their way into space. For those with both the cash and the time for training, it is possible to take a two-week flight to the International Space Station. The current pricetag is estimated to be in the $30-50 million range.

Who can afford it? Richard Garriott, a video game developer from the US and Canadian Guy Laliberte, billionaire and Cirque du Soleil founder, have already been in space. News reports also state that Sarah Brightman, Britian’s most popular diva, started training in January for a trip to ISS in October of this year. There are numerous rumors about other moguls, pop stars, and celebrities with plans to go into space in the near future.

Space Travel for the Rest of Us

The pool of travelers who can afford the multi-million dollar fees is rather small. This is why so many private companies are competing to be the first to offer space travel to the masses. Well, the masses who can come up with a quarter of a million dollars for a short flight.

Virgin Galactic is already charging $250,000 to take passengers on a suborbital flight. KosmoKurs, a Russian space company, is pre-selling tickets that range from $200,000 to $250,000 for a round trip into space. Other companies hoping to cash in include Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Vulcan Aerospace. There are also a few Chinese companies in development who hope to enter the commercial space race.

What can you expect for your fare? You’ll have to pass health tests to ensure your body can survive both zero gravity and the extra g-forces of take off and landing. You’ll undergo training on how to handle the flight. Then you’ll board a ship (designs differ between companies) and be launched by rocket just beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Virgin is promising three to four minutes of zero gravity while KosmoKurs guarantees a full five minute experience. All commercial space flights are limited so that passengers won’t have to adapt to the changes in gravity but will simply enjoy their brief experience.

Whether you will actually have the opportunity to go into space in a mere five years depends on many factors, including whether you manage your money well enough to pay the fare ( It also depends on the ability of these companies to come through on their promise. Space craft are still be designed and tested and some designs aren’t holding up. Witness the crash of Virgin Galactic’s experimental flight in October 2014. It also depends on the state of the economy and the ability of said companies to meet the demand for space tourism. The price may go up or it may go down by the time the first flights take off. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Test Version of Orion is Dropped C-17

A test version of Orion is dropped from a C-17, while flying 13,000 feet above the Arizona desert at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground on April 23. The spacecraft is released from the airplane on a sled that moves it safely away. Then a series of programmer parachutes get it into position for the test before the three massive orange and white main parachutes deploy. This was the first parachute test to simulate a launch abort scenario.

Invoice for Mars Mission: $1 Trillion?

Sending humans into space has become mundane.  In addition to various government space programs, there are now private corporations either sending people to space or planning commercial space flights.  The holy grail of all this development is to send a human mission to Mars.

In 1969 the first humans stepped onto the surface of the moon in a program that cost between $20-23 billion.  Adjusted for inflation and current market prices, NASA estimated that the six moon landings of the Apollo program would cost $170 billion today.  That seems likes peanuts compared to the estimated cost associated with sending one mission to Mars by 2040.  Some estimates put that figure at close to $1 trillion.

Mars One Proposal

That figure is in dispute.  A Dutch entrepreneur believes he can send four people to Mars for $6 billion. His plan, under the umbrella of Mars One, is to send colonists on a one way trip to settle on the planet.  He will then send additional groups every few years to increase the population and bring in additional supplies.  Mars One claims they will launch the first crew in 2023 and has already received hundreds of thousands of applications from those want to be on the first ship.

The $6 billion price tag seems low, given that the Mars rover Curiosity cost $2.5 billion.  The trick behind the Mars One cost is that it only considers the hardware of the ship and the operational expenses associated with the program.  It relies on buying ships and equipment from other companies and assumes such technology will be available in time.  They also plan to offset the cost of the program by turning it into a reality television show, where people on earth can watch the training, launch, and mission life in the comfort of their homes.

Real Costs of Mars

Experts agree that the cost of reaching Mars extends far beyond the purchase of a ship.  In fact, a group of professionals from 20 different organizations are meeting throughout 2014 in a series of conferences to determine how to reach Mars in the 2030s.  Sponsored by the American Astronautical Society and Explore Mars, Inc., the first conference, in December 2013, identified several key steps along the road to sending humans to land on the Red Planet.

  • Coordinated human and robotic missions — these will lay the groundwork for a future Mars mission, including missions that test landing options, return trips, and eventually a manned orbital mission to the planet.
  • Deployment of a transitional deep-space facility and bridge facility in addition to upgrades to the International Space Station
  • Development and construction of space craft capable of transporting humans and necessary equipment for landing/settling the planet.
  • Development and construction of equipment necessary to survive on the planet for a short or long-term mission. This includes housing, food production and environmental controls that will survive in less gravity, extreme temperatures, and the stormy environment of Mars.
  • Research into the physical, health, and psychological effects of both the long space journey and the time on the planet in order to develop systems to ensure a positive experience for the Mars astronauts/settlers.
  • Administrative costs of coordinating R&D, technology, construction, and personnel across multiple governments, corporations, and non-profit agencies involved in the various Mars projects.

Adding all that together, it is easy to see that the cost of reaching Mars is probably much closer to the $1 trillion figure than the $6 billion proposal.

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Rover Finds New Evidence of Water on Mars

Over ten years ago, the first Rover was put on the surface of Mars to learn a variety of things about the “Red Planet.” One such discovery was that water may have existed at one time on Mars, but is now long gone.

New evidence has been found by two Mars Rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, that suggest that Mars was once a water-rich planet. This information is highly important not just to understand more about Mars, but understand other planets in our solar system including our own. Read on for a look at why the Rover find is so important, and what is next for the Rover fleet.

Why is this information important?

The Mars Rovers have identified that Mars soil is rich in minerals that require water to grow and develop. This is important information because it tells us how rich the planet could have been with life. Water is required to sustain life, and if there are minerals and deposits in the Mars dirt that require water to grow, we can ascertain that Mars was once plentiful with waters. You won’t find any rivers or streams there now. Scientists believe Mars dried up around 5 million years ago. This is important to us because if life once existed on Mars, it potentially could again. In addition, could we possibly keep Earth from facing the same fate one day?

Is Earth the new Mars?

With melting polar ice caps and over seventy percent water to earth ratio, it doesn’t seem likely that Earth would face the same scenario that Mars seems to have faced. Here is what is significant, though. With signs of water on Mars, the chance that life existed there at one time is good – and if life did exist there, we need to learn more about the type of life, whether it be flora, fauna, people or aliens. By doing so, we can apply our knowledge to other planets and solar systems that we encounter.

What’s Next for the Rovers?

The Rovers will continue searching for life on Mars, which includes their search for signs of water. The ancient planet holds clues for us to discover what was one there. The barren wasteland that exists now holds many secrets, and learning them will not only help us understand our planet better, but other planets in our solar system as well.

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Who supplies the Space Shuttle Tires?

Space Shuttle Enterprise
Have you ever wondered who makes the tires for the space shuttle? Tires weren’t exactly necessary in the early days of the NASA space program. The first NASA space vehicles such as the Titan II and Saturn V rockets were just that — rockets. After returning from space these rockets would literally fall into the ocean and were retrieved by NASA afterward. When NASA launched the space shuttle program in 1981 it was clear that they were missing the one thing that rockets didn’t need – landing gear. Unlike NASA’s earlier rockets, the Space Shuttles were designed to make a standard airport landing after returning from space. But NASA knew that they would need something stronger than the average tire. So they turned to famous tire maker Michelin Tires to design and manufacture the tires for the Space Shuttle. Before Michelin could secure the contract to equip Space Shuttles with their tires, they had to create tires that could pass NASA’s rigorous tests and stand up to the stresses of space travel and a reentry landing. Since every ounce of weight counts for the Space Shuttle, the tires had to be as light as possible; the rocket boosters which launch the Shuttle into space are only capable of carrying so much weight. NASA has often had to sacrifice vital scientific packages because these weight requirements so the tires couldn’t be significantly heavy. To make the Shuttle tires as light as possible Michelin gave them as very little tread and in the end they only weighed about 205 pounds (for the landing gear tires).

And before any dealerships were putting Nitrogen in tires, Michelin was filling their aircraft tires with it including the Space Shuttle tires. Nitrogen is ideal for the inflating the tires of the Space Shuttle because it remains stable at the high altitudes, pressure, and temperatures that the Shuttle is exposed to. Speaking of extreme temperature, the Space Shuttle tires are exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in space to above 130 degrees Fahrenheit when the Shuttle is landing. Furthermore, to handle the excessive speeds of a landing Space Shuttle, the tires are rated for a maximum speed of 259 miles per hour.

Space Shuttle Landing

Unbeknownst to many, the tires on the space shuttle are actually about the same size as a truck tire. Though the main landing gear tire on the Space Shuttle can hold three times the load of a Boeing 747; in fact, the landing gear tires (44.5×16.0-21 MLG) can hold up to 142,000 pounds. To handle this immense amount of weight the tires are inflated beyond 300 psi. Furthermore, NASA actually only uses the main landing gear tires on the Space Shuttle once before replacing them with a new set. Today, Michelin or specifically Michelin Aircraft Tire Corporation remains the sole tire supplier for the NASA’s Space Shuttles.

Via Michelin & NASA

Photo by By Ad Meskens & By NASA/Jim Ross via Wikimedia Commons

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