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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora