News / Science & Technology

Landmark Year in Private Space Flight Development

Suzanne Presto
With NASA's retired shuttles mothballed in museums, 2012 saw a new kind of spacecraft blaze its own path toward the International Space Station.
 
In May, the Dragon space capsule — developed, owned and operated by California-based SpaceX — was launched from atop a Falcon-9 rocket, becoming the first private craft to dock with the ISS.
 
A feat achieved by only a few governments, the docking, says SpaceX chief Elon Musk, signaled more than a mere technological breakthrough.
 
"This was a crucial step," Musk said of the unmanned mission that was completed in conjunction with NASA. "It makes the things in the future, and the ultimate path toward humanity becoming a multi-planet species, much, much more likely."
 
Designed to carry cargo or crew, the Dragon capsule is slated for a manned test within three years.
 
Also working with NASA, Orbital Sciences Corporation, which has developed the Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo craft, has a planned 2013 demonstration flight to the space station.
 
At Kennedy Space Center for SpaceX's second successful ISS mission in October, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said these partnerships spur innovation and benefit the U.S. space program.
 
"We're handing off to the private sector our transportation to the International Space Station so that NASA can focus on what we do best — exploring even deeper into our solar system, with missions to an asteroid and Mars on the horizon," he said.
 
NASA officials have said the agency, via partnerships, is on track to launch astronauts from the United States within five years.
 
Presently constructing the Space Launch System, the largest rocket ever built, NASA engineers are also developing the Orion capsule, a craft designed to take astronauts 15 times farther than the International Space Station.
 
With Orion's unmanned trial mission set for 2014, interest in NASA's next generation vehicles has been growing.
 
"I'm glad to see the whole space program is going on because, I don't know, it seemed to me at least that all was kind of dead," said teenager Andrew Clancy at an April science festival in Washington. "But it's alive and well and looks great."
 
Acting as a lead investor that offers expertise and advice in addition to funding, NASA has secured contracts with three U.S. companies that are working on vehicles for manned missions to low-Earth orbit. Boeing, for example, is working on its Crew Space Transportation-100 capsule, which is designed to carry seven people and land on the ground. SpaceX is also developing vehicles similar in shape to late 20th century lunar capsules.
 
Nevada-based Sierra Nevada Corporation, however, is developing a winged spacecraft called Dream Chaser, whose shape more closely resembles a plane or a retired space shuttle.
 
"It's the same contest we played out in the 1950s — wings versus gumdrops [capsule-shaped vehicles]," said Howard McCurdy, a public affairs professor at American University in Washington. "Nobody knows at this stage which is the superior technology."

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Valery Alendeev from: Russia
December 20, 2012 11:47 PM
I consider the first private craft to dock with the orbital station a historic advance.

by: Ameriman from: Washington, DC
December 19, 2012 7:46 PM
so that NASA can focus on what we do best — exploring even deeper into our solar system
-------
What NASA does best is waste taxpayer $billions and distribute earmarked pork...
Bloated,pork driven NASA hasn't gotten a singe American beyond low earth orbit IN OVER 40 years!!!!

by: Daniel Baca from: Temecula, CA
December 18, 2012 8:30 PM
wings vs. gumdrops....I choose wings. the fact that we are finally privatizing space travel in the United States of America is a huge step, not leap, forward to allowing multiple teams and disciplines to expand our star fleet to levels that we require to protect Earth from NEO impacts and so forth. I welcome our native space overlords.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs