Mysterious robot spaceship makes historic return to Earth

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B unmanned spacecraft set a quiet record for the U.S. space program, touching down on a runway using only its own autopilot after seven months in space. It marks the first time we've done it — though believe it or not we're over 20 years late to the party.

Back in 1988, the now-defunct Soviet Union managed to do the same with its Buran space shuttle, which took off, spent a few hours and space and returned to Russia guided entirely by an automated process.

It was its first and last trip to space, however, as the Soviet Union collapsed soon after and the shuttle itself was destroyed when its hanger caught on fire. (So it's kind of like it doesn't count, right? We win?)

As for the X-37B, the Air Force plans for the 30-foot-long space plane to return to orbit next year. It's unclear what the craft is doing while it's up there — it can deploy solar panels to provide itself with power and has a cargo bay that may or may not be filled with secret military stuff.

Google News, via PC Mag

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