Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1969

Today you get space news. Much of which you may have already seen.

China not only managed to launch a human into space and return him safely to Earth but they performed a space walk this weekend. Mission commander Zhai Zhigang left the Shenzhou VII for 15 minutes. He collected samples of a lubricant placed on the hull just for him to recover. The mission lasted 68 hours.

The next day the independent space agency Space X launched the rocket Falcon 1 into orbit.
There's a hiccup in the video around 10 seconds after launch as they switch cameras. Just wait for it.

Other private enterprises have managed to launch manned vehicles into space and return them to Earth as part of the X-Prize competition. But those never achieved orbit.
The cargo was a hexagonal chunk of metal that simulated a real payload. After a few more successful launches they plan to start using the Falcon 9 rocket and providing an alternative to government sponsored rockets for getting satellites into orbit.

So while NASA is looking to remove itself temporarily from the manned space flight arena and others are reenacting the Space Race of the 1960s Japan, who currently is still hitchhiking out of the atmosphere, is taking the lead in the efforts to end the Age of Rockets completely.

Recent advances in carbon nanotubule technology have created tubes several feet in length. While NASA has had conferences about the possibility of building a space elevator in recent years they have yet to commit themselves. With these longer molecules we can start making serious plans. This is what Japan has started committing itself to - Serious plans.
For those of you who have yet to hear me blather on about space elevators I should explain. It involves an incredibly strong cable being lowered from geosynchronous orbit to a point along the equator. An elevator car would then be attached and climb the elevator to the desired point above the planet or get whipped off the far end toward the destination of choice. It would cut the cost per pound of getting objects into orbit by at least 90% and possibly 99%.

“Riding silently into the sky, soon she was 100km high, higher even than the old pioneering rocket planes, the X15s, used to reach. The sky was already all but black above her, with a twinkling of stars right at the zenith, the point to which the ribbon, gold-bright in the sunlight, pointed like an arrow. Looking up that way she could see no sign of structures further up the ribbon, no sign of the counterweight. Nothing but the shining beads of more spiders clambering up this thread to the sky. She suspected she still had not grasped the scale of the elevator, not remotely.”

From Firstborn by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Publisher: Del Ray

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