spaceflight stories

 
Now booking, now booking! Trips to the moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn! Come one, come all, and reserve your trip into space today! At least, that's what you could have done at New York City's Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History back in 1950. That begs the question: if you could book an interplanetary flight today, where would you go? I'm still partial to the Red Planet, myself, though there are some interstellar options that are looking better every day.
 
While NASA is leaving low Earth orbit and manned lunar ambitions to private spaceflight companies, the agency has been tasked by the Obama administration with taking the U.S. beyond the moon. To that end, NASA is revealing a huge rocket that the agency's calling the Space Launch System.
 
We wish we had better news to report, but the official timetable for that next "small step for Man" isn't all that timely. Our species has fallen depressingly short of the star-hopping future we were promised in the post-Apollo orgy of interplanetary sci-fi — and that was all before the global economic train wreck. Still, the next few decades aren't entirely without promise. Two trends are in our favor: 1) space exploration is becoming an increasingly international sport — more competition will breed more results — and 2) the advent of a commercial space industry will shepherd a nimbler, more efficient approach to exploration. To that end, we present some of the projects that hold the most promise for Humanity's Big Move into the final frontier. While plenty of cool scientific toys will be flung out into the cosmos in the coming years, for this piece we're concentrating on the missions and projects that will directly lead to getting our species' collective butt back into the cosmos. Earth is so yesterday.
 
For NASA and space fans alike, the Space Shuttle program could not be winding down at a headier time. The landing of Atlantis this morning marks the end of an era, and comes the same day as one of NASA's early milestones 50 years ago exactly: Virgil "Gus" Grissom's suborbital voyage aboard the Liberty Bell 7 — the second launch for Project Mercury, NASA's earliest manned spaceflight program. Yesterday also happened to be the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and just this May was the 50th anniversary of the first manned NASA spaceflight ever — also part of Project Mercury. So, yeah: heady times. Gus Grissom was the second American to go up into space, and the first to do it twice. He was an active influence on all of NASA's initial manned spaceflight programs, starting with his controversial Mercury flight, then on to Gemini and, finally, Apollo, where Gus Grissom would make the ultimate sacrifice. It should be stated here — and it's no slight to the man — that while this article focuses primarily on Grissom and includes interviews with people who worked in the space program, it's also about the untold thousands who go unmentioned. As Apollo programmer Homer Ahr told us over the phone, "We wanted to fly a successful mission, and sooner or later when you get people to discuss it from that vantage point, egos tended to go away." It was a team effort, through and through. With that in mind, join us as we take a look back at Grissom's contribution to our space program by way of his three landmark spacecraft, and the fierce controversy that threatened to tarnish an amazing legacy.
 
At the end of this week on July 8, the final mission of NASA's Space Shuttle program launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The program's thirty year history is familiar to space-watchers, but less is known of the program's pre-history. Before there was a Space Shuttle program, there was an initial twenty-five period filled with sci fi-like proto-spacecraft. It turns out that our familiar Shuttle program is just one of many "space plane" projects that were sketched out over the years, both by the U.S. Air Force and by NASA. In this piece, we'll take a look the various shapes those space planes took, and the awesome artwork our space ambitions produced, too.

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