Parachute Failure Dents Rocket Booster

Spacers Update

Anyone watching the Ares I-X rocket test this past Tuesday would have thought it all went smoothly from start to finish, and it did, to a certain extent. Just like the Shuttle, the Ares uses a Solid Rocket Booster which is recovered from the ocean after separation. The twin boosters of the Shuttle can bee seen after staging spinning together as the main engines carry the vehicle on up into orbit, but some time later the boosters splash down into the ocean, slowed down by three large parachutes. The Ares I-X booster, although one segment larger than a Shuttle booster, is recovered the same way, only after the test one of the parachutes appears to have failed causing the spent booster to hit the water at a higher speed than was safe by its design. The resulting impact dented the outer shell of the booster.

So, this is bad, right?
Well, for the booster yes it is bad. If the mission had been a manned one, there would have been no danger to the crew whatsoever as the failure happened in a system unrelated to the launch. My guess here is that the increased weight from the additional segment contributed to the failure and somehow overwhelmed the system. NASA is not worried at all about the failure and state that it has no impact at all on the Ares program.

Still, it made for some very pretty post launch pictures, eh.


Images courtesy of United Space Alliance
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Waiting In The Water

I just love this picture - the booster stage of the Ares I-X rocket bobs patiently in the Atlantic after the test launch, waiting to be recovered and used again.

Just a bit of self indulgence from me, but click it to en-huge-ify and enjoy!


Image courtesy of NASA
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Inside The Ares I-X Launch - Why We Love Rockets

So, NASA lofted the Ares I-X test rocket into the Florida sky at last, and we all watched eagerly - although you wouldn't know it from the scant mainstream news coverage. Of course an uber space geek like me is going to just lap events like this up and wax lyrical about it in a blog, but what about the other 90% of the world? Isn't this just another thing that happened in a world they know very little about and could really care less? Well, yes. It is true that the painfully vast majority are quite simply not Spacers. The number of people who tune in to watch a regular Shuttle launch is only surpassed by how many people didn't even know there was going to be one. Space, it seems, is all but tuned out - but, one mention of the word "Rocket" and all of a sudden ears start to prick up.

Echoes of history - Saturn V and Ares I-X

The two images above are 40 years apart. In the first, the Saturn V rocket of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins creates a vapor cone as they make their way into history in 1969. The second, Ares I-X follows suit with its own vapor cone. Rockets! That's what people want to see. Tall, slender, majestic rockets as they pierce the sky en-route to space.

Contrast the above images with the vapor cone of the Shuttle.

Space Shuttle Vapor Cone

A beautiful thing for sure, but not as pristine and perfect as the vapor cone of a single rocket. Well okay I'm being a tad dramatic, but you get the point. The Shuttle is of course a rocket and then some. It is three rocket motors strapped to a huge fuel tank that has two rockets strapped to the sides, it's almost rocket porn! But all that power and beauty and the darned thing is has been stuck in low Earth orbit for decades. What we need is a big powerful jaw dropping beasty of a rocket - a veritable pulsating phallic stack of raw flaming rocket powered grunt that could haul a small city up to the Moon and not even break a sweat. The launch of Ares I-X marks a return to being able to use such glaringly over the top prose again. In short, rockets are back, and they don't want their mommy.

Ares V - The next BIG Rocket

One thing to note about the importance of the single rocket stack concept is safety - unlike the Shuttle, a disaster at launch is survivable. In the classic stack the astronauts sit at the very top with all the power beneath them. Should anything go wrong, there is a launch abort system - that slender needle at the very top - a collection of small rockets that literally yanks the crew module away from the explosion. The shuttle design prohibits such an abort system, and with the crew near the middle of the most volatile part of the stack - the fuel, if anything goes wrong - like it did so horribly during the Challenger disaster - the crew is a sitting duck. This applies to re-entry too, with the heat shield of a single stack crew module safely shielded from and above any debris hits at high velocity, but the exposed wing leading edges of a Shuttle are prone to damage from debris and even the likes of a high velocity bird strike.

With single stack rockets back on to the plate of American space exploration, maybe the country can re-capture that all too brief love affair it had with slender needles again. Maybe the importance of getting our butts off this planet and figuring out the cosmos will become glamorous once more. Maybe building cool stuff in low Earth orbit will be behind us and we can get back on track with building even cooler stuff on other worlds. And maybe I won't feel like I'm the only geek who loves rockets anymore.

Happy Spacing Spacers!

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Ares I-X Launches!

Spacers Launch

The Ares I-X test rocket launched today. After a first day scrub because of bad weather, NASA launched the test rocket at 11:30am EDT marking the first time a vehicle other than a Shuttle has launched from the complex since Skylab was hoisted atop a Saturn rocket in 1973.

Watch the launch video here.

Look out for a full report later on Spacers.

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Launch Attempt #1 Scrubbed

Spacers Quickie

Bad weather contributed to a scrub of the first launch attempt of the Ares I-X test rocket earlier today. The four hour launch window opened at 8:00am and closed at 12:00pm EDT with no break in the weather to permit a clear viewing for vital data collection.

Ares I-X on the pad with Atlantis in the background

A second launch window opens tomorrow at the same time, and with slightly better weather prospects.

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Countdown Commenced

Spacers Quickie

The countdown has commenced for the Ares I-X test rocket launch. NASA issued the call to stations at 12:30am EDT, and the countdown began at 1:00am. The newly renovated Young-Crippen firing room will play host to the event, but the planned 8:00am liftoff may be scuppered by the weather, with only a 40% chance of favorable conditions on the cards. There is a 4 hour launch window though, so keep an eye on things until then.

Ares I-X at sunset

Catch the Ares I-X launch blog here beginning at 5:am EDT.

Happy Spacing Spacers!

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BUSTED! Latvian Meteorite Crater A Fake

It didn't take long to confirm that a recent report from Latvia of a meteorite impact crater was fake. Local eyewitness reports of fireballs in the sky came in aroung 5pm yesterday, quickly followed by blog posts of apparent photographic evidence of the crater.

Now, call me cynical, but when I saw this particular photograph my immediate reaction was laughter.

So, what do you see here then?
Well, I see a nicely dug hole, probably with a JCB and shovels, and a little off-center area with the remains of a campfire in it. It looks very much like what someone with limited knowledge of impact craters would create if they were asked to.

Several clues jump out right off the bat. No ejecta. Anything that created a hole this big in one thump would have thrown the contents outwards for several metres. Shovel marks. Yes, there were shovel marks found aroung the rim. That's what I call a "Doh!" moment. The fire remnants. It's a common misconception that meteorite craters are formed by flaming lumps of rock, when in actuality they are invariably cold by the time they reach the ground.

Personally, I think they should have combined resources with the Balloon Boy family and given us all a grand scale hoax to chuckle over.

The video is the killer for me.

Grab the marshmallows and listen to those tree branches crack!

Happy Faking Spacers!

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Good To Go, Weather Permitting

Spacers Quickie
Ares I-X has been cleared for its planned Tuesday launch attempt after a Flight Test Readiness Review by NASA managers, but the weather forecast is looking a little dodgy, with only a 40 percent chance of favorable conditions expected.

Since this is a test flight, NASA wants to gather as much data from the launch as possible, so clear skies have been mandated. If Tuesday is a bust, another attempt will be made on Wednesday.

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3 - 2 - 1 - Practice Launch

The final practice countdown for the Ares I-X test rocket launch is underway. NASA launch teams, always eager to get it right first time, are running through a complete countdown simulation just days ahead of Tuesday's test flight.

Ares I-X enroute to the pad

So, aren't they talking about scrapping Ares?

Ironically, this could be the only Ares launch as the Obama administration is currently assessing the results of an independent review of U.S. human spaceflight plans. One of the recommendations is to use existing launch platforms such as the Atlas rocket and attach the NASA hardware.

It is unlikely, but entirely possible, that this could be a very historic launch so crank up NASA TV Tuesday morning and catch a piece of the action for yourself.

Happy Spacing Spacers!

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Ares Launch Date Confirmed

Spacers Quickie
Nasa has confirmed the launch date of the Ares I-X test rocket for 08:00 EDT (12:00 GMT) Tuesday October 27. The launch will be covered live on NASA TV - links to the right ->

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2012 - The Year They Shut Up?

So, is the world gonna end in a couple of years, again?

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up - the world is set to end once again, just like it didn't all those times before. This time though, it's different, right? Well, no not really. This time there will certainly be a lot more vivid cinematographic imagery for us to oooh and aaah about, but sadly everyone will still end up having to clear down their bar tabs after whooping it up and grabbing everything that moves for some pre-apocalyptic nookie at the end-of-the-world holiday weekend party.

The coming Hollywood blockbuster disaster movie 2012 is likely to be a visually stunning feast of storyline bereft goo, as we have come to expect of such films. The end of the world is actually a pretty important subject that has yielded many a motion picture delight - who can forget the classic When Worlds Collide - but the issue I have is that the trend is always - the more visually amazing the spectacle, the less accurate the science and the less compelling the human story. Take for example the two asteroid disaster movies that appeared in the late 90's, Armageddon and Deep Impact. The former was by far the most pleasing visually, with a reasonable soundtrack, half decent acting, and a plot that was so gushingly hero-heavy that you almost missed the sickly the-world-loves-America scenes snuck in to the triumphant ending. All very nice, but the science was appalling! Just the X-71's alone docking to a rotating space station and flying like jet aircraft in space is enough to make even a casual science geek giggle.

Deep impact on the other hand concentrated more on the human stories of the characters as the disaster approached. The special effects were minimal in comparison and the science was only a little on the naughty side. Blowing up an object approaching Earth minutes before it impacts is actually quite a bad idea, as all you are doing is increasing the size of the projectiles target area. All of the kinetic energy of the object is still going to hit the Earth, except now the myriad fragments are going to wreak havoc with the atmosphere as well as destroy more targets. At least one large impact will leave us with something to breathe after it hits.

This time with 2012 though, I think we are going to get the most stunning apocalypse recorded on film. The story? Meh, not so much. What is certain however is that once we all survive 2012 with our tax bill intact, the doomsayers will not finally shut up once and for all. This is just the latest in a long, long line of doomsday predictons that are hyped out of all proportions to the point that a significant number of gullable and easily fooled people of various religious persuations are going to buy into.

Although humans are a relatively new addition to the tree of life, we are but one of millions of evolving species. Disaster may come one day, and our species may not survive, but the Earth will not end for a few billion years yet. Long after we have gone the next dominant species may step up to the plate and enjoy the cool stuff we left for them. Will they too have to deal with their own cryers of doom who pop up every few years and scream 'RUN!!!!'? Or will they mature enough to scorn at such inane behaviour?

Happy Disaster Spacers!

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To Tweet, Or Not To Tweet

NASA held its first ever live 'tweet-up' yesterday, an event where followers of the two twittering ISS astronauts, Nicole Stott and Jeff Williams, could ask questions on live television. The event itself was a complete success, but was cut short by a "Houston, we have a problem" moment - a loud beeping noise that prompted Jeff Williams to utter "Excuse us just a second". A frantic live TV search for the source was ended shortly after as the station passed out of communications range. The alarm was false though, an erroneous reading from a smoke detector in the Russion segment.

Several questions were answered by Stott and Williams before the alarm though.

When asked by "Sarah" if there was anything about living on the space station that the astronauts hadn't prepared or trained for, Nicole Stott replied "Something you can't train for is how your body is going to react to the new environment. Getting used to moving from one place to another without walking - just floating and pushing off of surfaces... I think that has been a really cool part of this whole experience."

A teacher from Rochester, New York, said his students wanted to know why they choose to be astronauts, given the risk. Stott replied "I wouldn't do this if I didn't think it was. I have a family at home, I have a young son. I truly believe that what we're doing up here is opening up new opportunities for him as well as for the rest of the world."

After the alarm and loss of signal, NASA directed the questions to astronauta on the ground, Michael Fincke and Tom Jones. When asked if such alarms were common, Jones replied "Every couple of days you're going to get something like that, when a sensor reads a slightly higher or lower than expected level of cabin pressure, instrument voltage, or something similar."

Watch the tweetup here.

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Ares I-X Is Revealed!

NASA has finally rolled out the Ares I-X rocket, revealing its return to a rocket stack for human spaceflight.

So, what did I miss then?

The rollout of Ares I-X provided a spectacular sight, watched eagerly by reporters and photographers, along with NASA personnel, as the giant rocket slowly make the 4.2 mile launch pad trek. Ares I-X rocket stands 143 feet taller than the Shuttle, and is the tallest rocket to emerge from the Vehicle Assembly Building since the massive 363-foot Saturn V rocket used to launch Apollo astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The Saturn V still holds the record for the tallest, most powerful rocket in history, but Ares I-X is the tallest current orbit capable launch vehicle.

So, isn't the Shuttle there too?

Yes, it is! Space Shuttle Atlantis is currently perched atop its own launch pad, Pad 39A for a planned Nov. 16 liftoff. It is the first time two different human spaceflight vehicles have occupied the complex 39 pads.

The Ares I-X is not a full Ares I rocket. Its first stage is a four-segment solid rocket booster — repurposed from the shuttle fleet's inventory — capped with a dummy fifth segment. The thicker second stage, Orion crew capsule and launch abort system are also all mock-ups built to simulate the size and mass of the real thing.

Next week's launch test flight is expected to last just over two minutes and reach an altitude of about 28 miles. First stage separation will come about two minutes, 33 seconds into the flight, with the first stage parachuting down to the ocean to be recovered. The dummy second stage and Orion mockups will crash into the ocean and not be recovered.

Ares I-X has three chances to launch next week, one a day each between Oct. 27 and Oct. 29. NASA initially planned to only have two days to try and fly Ares I-X, but on Monday the agency pushed the launch target for Space Shuttle Atlantis by four days to Nov. 16 in order to allow for a third opportunity.

So, what else have they got planned for Ares?

The Ares I-X flight is the first of three planned test flights for the Ares I rocket. The next launch, dubbed Ares I-Y, is slated to launch in 2014 and include a real second stage. The third mission, called Orion I, is planned to launch an actual Orion spacecraft into orbit, but on an unmanned test flight.

Here are a couple of Ares I-X videos.

Ares I-X Rollout

Animation of Ares I-X test flight

Enjoy the launch, and Happy Spacing, Spacers!

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Ares I-X Delayed Again

NASA has delayed the rollout of the Ares I-X rocket by a few hours. The new rollout time is 00:01 EDT (04:01 GMT) Tuesday morning.

They are taking their sweet time, but it is going to be worth it to see the next generation space hardware at the launch pad. It will be the first time a rocket stack intended for human spaceflight has been secured to a pad since the Apollo era, and a stark reminder that the Space Shuttle era is about to come to a close.

SpacerNote: Must look in to visiting Florida around the time of the last Shuttle launch.

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Progress Arrives

A very quick update today as it was the Brazilian Grand Prix - congratulations Jenson Button!

So, less of the petrol, what happened in space then?

Progress 35 has arrived and safely docked to the ISS with fresh supplies for the Expedition 21 crew. The Russian craft is delivering over two tons of supplies to the station including 1,750 pounds of spare parts, life support gear and equipment hardware.

That's all for today.

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Buzz Alert!

Earth will be buzzed by a small asteroid tonight that will fly just inside the orbit of the Moon. It's orbit is very well understood though, and there is no danger to the planet whatsoever.

The scary thing is that it was just discovered on Thursday! Our friends over at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona gave it the expected name 2009 TM8. The asteroid is tiny - about 30 feet (7 meters) across - and will get within 216,000 miles (348,000 km) of Earth when it zooms by at a speed of around 18,163 mph (29,232 kph). Closest approach will be 03:44 GMT Saturday October 17th 2009, that's 11:44 pm EDT.

So, what would happen if it did hit us then?

Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL, Pasedena says "If it's typical density, it would create a 4 kiloton explosion in the Earth's atmosphere if it were to hit, which of course it won't. You'd expect an object of this size to fly within the orbit of the moon every few days or so. There are about 7 million of these objects in the near-Earth space. Needless to say we have discovered only a small fraction of them. An asteroid this size can hit the Earth once every seven years or so."

Anyone with a telescope, you might wanna keep an eye on the sky for us, please!

Happy Spacing Spacers!

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The Highlights

So, anything Spacey happening then?

Of course! As always there is a heaped spoonful of space to talk about. Here are the highlights.

Progress 35 launched on Wednesday from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Khasakhstan. In a dazzling dawn launch, the resupply mission produced some amazing imagery as it made its way into orbit to chase down the ISS.

NASA will be Tweeting Atlantis launch. Fans of Twitter can follow the launch in this new initiative from NASA at http://www.nasa.gov/collaborate/tweetup.html

Ares I-X has been delayed on its way to the launch pad by a faulty part in the steering system. The rollout has been put back by at least a day as engineers work to fix the glitch.

Reusable spaceplane prototyoe launched. A reusable rocket plane has made a successful test flight from New Mexico's Spaceport America. The prototype craft was launched using a vertical rail system to demonstrate the viability of the technology.

Looks like there is hope for us plebs getting into space yet.

Happy Spacing Spacers!

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Guess The Painter

Can you guess who painted this?

Yep, you are quite right, it was Mars. This is a stunning image from the HiRISE camera showing sand dunes in a crater drizzled with the trails of dust devils.

Sometimes though, the tech is irrelevant, you just have to look in awe.

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Meteor Caught On Camera

This is pretty cool, a camera at the University of Western Ontario in Canada caught a really bright meteor streaking across the sky.

The apparent brightness was reported as 100 times brighter than a full moon. Wow!
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Atlantis Has A Roll

Atlantis has made it to launch pad 39A. Anyone get up at 6:30am EDT to watch it? No! Wow, and you call yourself a Spacer. Well okay then I didn't get up to watch it either - it would have been 3:30am for me here in Arizona anyway.

Atlantis crawls up the pad rampThe launch pad's protective rotating service structure will be closed around the shuttle tonight to create a sealed environment for launch pad teams to begin support preparations for Atlantis' November 12th launch, including attaching and securing the payload items. Unfavourable sun angles at the ISS limit the viable launch dates to before November 19th, and if NASA is succesful in launching Atlantis before the end of the year it will bring the tally to five - the most since 2002. This is a notable achievement given the increased processing workload it imposed after the Columbia tragedy.

STS-129 crewThe STS-129 astronauts are scheduled to fly to Kennedy on Oct. 19 to participate in the three-day Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, which gives the crew an opportunity to check the fit of their spacesuits, practice emergency evacuation procedures at the launch pad, review firefighting methods and participate in a simulated launch countdown.

In the above picture on the front row are astronauts Charlie Hobaugh (left), commander; and Barry Wilmore, pilot. From the left (back row) are astronauts Leland Melvin, Mike Foreman, Robert Satcher and Randy Bresnik, all mission specialists.

Keep an eye on NASATV as they cover activities in the runup to the launch.

Happy Spacing Spacers!

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U2 Can Be In Space!

U2 pay a visit to Mission Control in Houston to make a call to the International Space Station. The communication delay makes the conversation a little awkward at times, but it's an entertaining exchange.

So, is NASA getting all trendy now?

Well, in my opinion NASA needs to get a lot more trendy than it has been over the years. I find the whole business of space exciting and fascinating to geek level, but to the average person it is presented as somewhat boring at times. There is a vast difference between the Hollywood production image of space and the reality, and I support any attempt to make it more mainstream accessible. This is a good attempt, but even the kids looked bored at times - and kids love space!

Keep it up, NASA - and maybe look into hiring a media guru.

Happy Spacing Spacers!

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The Rollouts Continue

Space Shuttle Atlantis is set to roll out to launch pad 39A tomorrow, Wednesday 14th October. For anyone interested in watching something that moves a little faster than drying paint, you can click one of the NASATV links to the right, and don't forget to set your alarm for 6am EDT!

Mission STS-129 is targetted to launch on November 12th to the ISS as the Shuttle program winds down by finishing construction of the orbital outpost. This is an outfitting mission that will deliver a pair of external logistics carriers and spare parts for the station, including a massive gyroscope used for orientation of the station.

STS-129 crew patchLaunch Target:
Nov. 12, 2009
Mission Number:
(129th space shuttle flight)
Launch Window:
10 minutes
Launch Pad:
Mission Duration:
11 days
Landing Site:
51.6 degrees/122 nautical miles
Primary Payload:
31st station flight (ULF3), EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 (ELC1), EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 2 (ELC2)

So, is that all that's happening then?

Before then there are two Russian launches to the ISS planned, a Progress resupply mission on Thursday, October 15th, and a Soyuz launch on November 10th that will attach the Mini Research module MRM2 to the Russian segment of the station. It's a busy time in orbit as the completion date approaches. Check out the upcoming launch schedule here.

Happy Spacing Spacers!

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Next Gen Rocket Set To Roll Out

NASA is set to kick its next generation of human spaceflight into higher gear when it rolls out its Ares I-X rocket to launch pad 39B on October 19th. The launch is scheduled for October 27th.

So, what's the big deal then?

Ares I-X rocket
Well, with the retirement of the Shuttle fleet scheduled for the end of 2010, this is an important moment of visibility as it will be well over 4 years until the US is able to fly humans into space again. During the interim period there will be a complete reliance upon partner nations to loft astronauts to the ISS - currently the only viable off-world destination. The big deal is that NASA is actively working on getting the US back in the driving seat, but as usual it its being asked to build an amazing thing with less of a budget than the annual profit of the average bank.

So, what time did you say the launch was again?

Ahh, I didn't! This is a very different launch than the likes of a Shuttle launch, where there is a specific target, like the ISS or Hubble. The purpose in this case is a systems test, where the target is limited to the ability to track and communicate. It will also test ground hardware, facilities, and operations. All this contributes to a very wide launch window and allows plenty of time to iron out bugs and glitches that would normally postpone a launch. The launch window for Ares I-X is from 08:00 – 12:00 EDT (12:00 – 16:00 UTC).

So, isn't it really just another Apollo?

It does look similar, doesn't it? The Ares rocket is essentially a crew vehicle atop a single solid rocket booster, just like the boosters on the Shuttle. Conceptually it is a return to the Apollo era design, with multiple stages in a single stack. That doesn't mean it is necessarily a step backwards though. Ares has nearly 40 years of human spaceflight activity since Apollo going into its design. There have been many improvements in safefy and design since then, as well as a better understanding of our place in space - as a planet, rather than politically bound countries. Apollo grew out of a race to supremacy, but Ares is comes from a desire to propel mankind toward a permanent presence on other worlds.

So, why not just send the Shuttle to the Moon?

The Shuttle may have looked cool and was in all regards completely reusable, but it was extremely heavy, which effectively limited it to orbiting the Earth. The Shuttle can never leave the confines of Low Earth Orbit and it would be useless as a Moon vehicle. It is too heavy to hurl it Moonward and couldn't land there anyway due to the lack of atmosphere. NASA returned to the single stack concept, but this time they are increasing the payload size by lofting the Moonbound hardware ahead of the astronauts, who will rendezvous and dock with the hardware in Low Earth Orbit first.

Until we can assemble hardware off-world, like on the Moon for instance, we are limited to this approach to go beyond our cozy little Earth-Moon system.

More information here.

Keep an eye out for updates on the Ares I-X launch.

Until then, Happy Spacing, Spacers!

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Getting Things Started Again

Hey there Spacers. Well, as you can tell by the lack of blog posts here, Spacers has been in dormant mode for a while. There are so many cool things going on and so little time to blog about them, but never fear, SpaceHead is here! I'm finally getting around to sorting out stuff so that this blog can once again fly... like the space bird it is.

Watch this space (uhhh, yeah I intended that pun, really) for the latest updates to Spacers!
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