NASA Plans to Return to Space with SpaceX

Geek Culture

NASA Astronaut Rex Walheim in the Dragon © SpaceX NASA Astronaut Rex Walheim in the Dragon © SpaceX

NASA Astronaut Rex Walheim in the Dragon © SpaceX

Here’s some good news for kids worried that their dreams of being an astronaut had been dashed with the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program last year: NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) as one of three vendors to test ships that will transport American Astronauts back to “space,” or at least into low Earth orbit.

Illustration of Dragon Crew Spacecraft in Orbit © SpaceXIllustration of Dragon Crew Spacecraft in Orbit © SpaceX

Illustration of Dragon Crew Spacecraft in Orbit © SpaceX

The first crewed flight is planned to be launched three years from now, in 2015. The new rockets will combine SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, which is currently used to ferry supplies to the International Space Station, and Falcon 9 vehicle, which has been designed as a crew capsule. The new crew ships will be able to carry up to seven astronauts into orbit, and then return them using a propulsive landing system that touches down using landing legs on solid ground rather than a splash down.

One great feature of the SpaceX rockets is also that they use all liquid fuel rockets, unlike the Space Shuttle booster rockets which were solid fuel. This not only makes for a much smoother ride for the passengers, but a much safer one as well. Once ignited solid rockets cannot be shut down. Liquid rockets, on the other hand, can be throttled and turned off completely in an emergency.

According to the NASA Web site, in addition to SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corp. and The Boeing Company also won contracts to:

… perform tests and mature integrated designs. This would then set the stage for a future activity that will launch crewed orbital demonstration missions to low Earth orbit by the middle of the decade

But wait, there’s more! NASA is also still developing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle spacecraft and Space Launch System which will transport earthlings beyond low Earth orbit for possible missions to the moon, asteroids, or other close-by heavenly bodies. This space race isn’t over yet!

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