The price of Nasa’s Space Shuttle fleet has just been slashed from £25.8m Credit: Getty
It flew faster and higher than any machine in history and was the was the ultimate boy’s toy, but at $42 million (£25.8 m) it was beyond most budgets. But now the price of Nasa’s soon-to-be redundant space shuttles has plummeted to something more down-to-earth: a new analysis of the costs of hauling the monster from the Kennedy Space Centre to a major US airport has led the space agency to slash the price to $28.2 m (£17.7m) .
Discovery, which has completed 37 missions into space and 5,247 orbits, has already been promised to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, but shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour are still available.
The highest highlight of 2009 was clearly the revival of the Hubble Space Telescope, a mission that blended moments of beauty and brute force 350 miles above the earth.
Or was it?
Maybe the top story was the reassessment of NASA’s plans for human spaceflight. After all, tens of billions of dollars could be at stake. Or maybe it was the series of victories in NASA-backed competitions that had gone unwon for years.
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NASA’s Mercury planet exploration team this week said they have created critical tool for the first orbital observations of the planet – a global map of Mercury that will help scientists pinpoint craters, faults, and other features that will be essential for the space agency’s extensive 2011 mission.
That’s when NASA’s satellite MESSENGER (The Mercury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER) will become the first spacecraft to actually orbit Mercury — about 730 times — beaming back pictures and never-before-available pictures and information on the planet. To get into its proper orbit, MESSENGER has taken the scenic route through the solar system, including one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury.
Mars Colony Concept Credit: NASA
Only a few details have dribbled out of the meeting in the Oval Office between President Obama and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Most observers do not expect any news of an Obama space exploration policy before the 2011 budget is released this February.
However the Orlando Sentinel has a few tid bits.
“Among the things Bolden told lawmakers and Congressional staff was that the White House was now favoring a $1 billion top line increase to NASA’s budget in 2011. This would be far better than the 5 percent cut that all agencies, including NASA, were asked by the White House to prepare, but difficult to secure given the deficit cutting mindset in Congress now.
NASA is hoping to launch a new infrared space observatory on Friday, but cloudy weather could delay the flight.
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is slated to lift off atop a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Dec. 11 between 9:09:33 a.m. and 9:23:51 a.m. EST (1409 and 1423 GMT).
Unfortunately, thick clouds and rain are forecasted, prompting NASA to give the weather an 80 percent chance of preventing the launch. Even if liftoff is delayed for 24 hours, the forecast looks to be similar.
“We’ve got some challenging weather ahead of us,” said launch director Chuck Dovale during a Wednesday briefing.
Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan in VMS Eve, the craft that will carry SpaceShipTwo into sub-orbital space
Virgin Galactic readies for Monday’s unveiling of SpaceShipTwo — the first-class space tourist’s wonder machine at the core of the space tourism firm’s suborbital fleet.
The scene is spacecraft manufacturer Scaled Composites at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. No doubt, there’s plenty of pomp and circumstance that’s due this debut — although specific aspects about the rocket plane’s rollout remain under wraps.
SpaceShipTwo is a carbon composite cousin in construction and design to SpaceShipOne — the privately financed, single-piloted spacecraft that bagged the $10 million Ansari X Prize purse by flying back-to-back treks to suborbital space in 2004.
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NASA is still perplexed over the parachute failure that damaged its new Ares I-X test rocket during its October test launch, but otherwise the debut flight went well, mission managers said.
The $445 million suborbital Ares I-X rocket, NASA’s first prototype of the vehicle it plans to carry humans to orbit after the space shuttles retire, blasted off Oct. 28 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It soared eastward into the sky, peaked at about 28 miles altitude, then the solid-rocket first stage separated from its dummy second stage and dropped into the ocean as planned.
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The large body of water was fed through rivers carrying rainwater, scientists believe.
These created a network of valleys on the surface of the planet more than twice as extensive as previously thought, new research reveals.
The findings come just a week after Nasa, the American space agency, announced that they had found water on the surface of the Red Planet, raising hopes of finding life on Mars.
New maps showing that the valleys cover a larger area than previously appreciated has led scientists to believe there was once a single ocean covering much of planet’s northern half.
The extent of the Martian valleys, and what they mean for the chances of life on the planet, have been hotly debated since they were first discovered by the Mariner 9 Spacecraft in 1971.
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NASA’s launch of its Ares test rocket has Buzz Aldrin questioning the vehicle’s design and outlining the need for better rockets.
The launch of NASA’s new rocket, Ares I-X, on October 28 was the first test flight of a new launch vehicle since the Apollo missions. The flight was spectacular and historic, but the famous Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin says it was little more than a half-a-billion dollar political show.
Read the rest of this great article at www.technologyreview.com