From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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Chris Bergin at NASAspaceflight.com today wrote a report on the four companies NASA is subsidizing to build manned capsules. The status of each company tells us something of whether they can eventually provide the United States with a replacement for the shuttle, and do it soon. Let’s take a look at each.
Dream Chaser: Being built by Sierra Nevada, this reusable “baby shuttle”, launched on an Atlas rocket, is actually derived not from the shuttle design but from the lifting body research NASA performed in the early 1970s. At the moment plans call for the delivery of the first test prototype by December 2011. NASA will do a complete design review in May 2012. When the first test flights will occur remains unclear.
CST-100: This large scale Apollo-like capsule, being built by Boeing, will be capable of carrying up to seven astronauts. It has also been designed to launch on several different rockets, though the Atlas V is considered its primary carrier. In addition to providing NASA with crew ferrying capability, Boeing has an agreement with Bigelow Aerospace to provide ferrying service to its privately built space stations. A variety of drop tests and wind tunnel tests are presently going on, with a parachute test of the capsule set for the spring. The target date for actual operations is 2015.
Blue Origin: Relatively little is known about this capsule, funded and built by amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. It appears the plans are to also launch it on an Atlas V rocket, though the company appears intent on building its own reusable rocket.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9/Dragon capsule: In order to make this reusable cargo carrying capsule man-rated, SpaceX must install a launch abort system to be used during launch to get the capsule safely free from a failing rocket. It appears the first round of testing for this system should begin in the spring of 2012. Meanwhile, the second test flight of Dragon’s cargo capability, is set for late this year. That flight will test the capsule’s ability to rendezvous with ISS and if all goes well, possibly complete a berthing to the station using the station’s robot arm.
From what I can gather, only SpaceX is close to launch, with Boeing not far behind. Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser is the most interesting concept, however. Though the design appears the most radical, its lifting body shape has already been tested in flight — in suborbital flights by the United States and orbital flights by the Soviet Union — and has been proved to work. If they can get this built, it could be the best privately built vehicle of all to get humans to and from orbit.
Under the present contract arrangements, these four companies are completely in charge of design and construction, with NASA engineers and managers only taking a consulting role. Sadly, there are indications that the upper management at NASA wish to change this arrangement in order to give NASA a greater supervisory role. If that happens, expect development on all four of these manned spaceships to slow significantly.
Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.
This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.
This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.
Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
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