Category Archives: Space

Mars: Kicking the can down the road

We always seem to be about 20 years from going to Mars.

While President Obama recently set our sights on the red planet by the 2030s, an actual program and the money for it still aren’t there.

One of the definitive memories from my early childhood is of laying on the living room floor in front of the TV, watching Neil and Buzz set foot on the Moon. Even then, I worshiped astronauts and the space program.

As I watched successive moon landings and space missions, there was talk of what was next: space stations, moon bases, and sending people to Mars. Optimistically, we dreamed that the arc of our reach into space was going to continue on an unbroken line upward. But politics and money soon got in the way. Our national will to conquer the solar system abated once we beat the Russians to the lunar surface. Our political ego turned out to be more important than exploration.

I had always assumed I would see an astronaut walking on Mars in my lifetime. Now, I’m not so sure.

I’m not the only one who feels a little discouraged. Leroy Chiao, an astronaut, writes in an op-ed on Space.com that “an actual Mars program is missing; while it is true that NASA has received small increases in its budget and technological progress is being made, the funding and political resource commitments do not match the goal of landing humans on Mars in the 2030s.”

I want to see people walking on the next planet out. What’s more, I would like the first ones to be Americans. Our nation has proven it has the drive, the ambition, and the know-how. All we need is the will.

That will must come from the next presidential administration and Congress if it’s going to happen in my lifetime.

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NASA’s “Mars Explorers Wanted” poster series celebrates the agency’s latest effort to prepare for a journey to Mars. Credit: NASA

 

A mystery space mission right over your head

A super-secret spacecraft has been orbiting the earth for more than 500 days. No one will tell us what it’s doing up there, how long it’s staying up, or where it’s going to land.

The plot of a science fiction thriller? Nope.

The Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane is on its fourth secret mission which has recently passed the 500-day mark. (The third mission lasted 674 days.) One can guess it has something to do with national security or military spying. Or, if you have a conspiratorial bent, it has something to do with testing captured alien technology.

A couple of things we do know about the vehicle is that it carries a NASA advanced materials investigation and an experimental propulsion system developed by the Air Force.

Like NASA’s Space Shuttle (RIP), the X-37B is reusable, but there are only two in the fleet, at least, that’s all the Air Force will confirm. This current mission is the second flight of the second vehicle built for the Air Force by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems in El Segundo, California.

Did I mention that the X-37B is unmanned? Well, that’s what they tell us, anyway.

x37b