Saturday, December 17, 2011

More exciting news about America's future in space exploration

I saw this story first on Yahoo! News (a December 14 AP story by Donna Blankinship and Seth Borenstein), but this article, on, by Denise Chow, is likely to be available longer.

What you're looking at in the photo above is an artist's conception of a giant airplane carrying a rocket.

How big is the plane? The wingspan will be 385 feet -- 66 feet wider than the prior record-holder, Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. The plane is to be built by Scaled Composites, the company founded by Burt Rutan, the aerospace engineer who, according to Wikipedia, designed the record-breaking Voyager, "the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling, and the sub-orbital spaceplane SpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for becoming the first privately funded spacecraft to enter the realm of space twice within a two week period."

The plane would be powered by six 747 engines. The Falcon 9 spacecraft to be carried by this giant will be supplied by SpaceX, the company that will attempt to send a supply mission to the International Space Station in February 2012 (see, this Page Two post).

The idea of an airplane carrying a rocket to a mid-air launching point may be unfamiliar to younger readers, but the rest of us remember how the X-15 reached the edge of space with the aid of a B-52 bomber.

"Mating and integration" for the Stratolaunch project is to be provided by Dynetics, a company whose website boasts the ability to deliver "high-quality, high-value engineering, scientific, and information technology (IT) solutions" to its customers.

I'm not certain what that leaves for Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen to actually do, but he is the "name" attached to the Stratolaunch project and I gather that he is the one putting these corporate pieces together. If he puts the pieces together well, it could be the start of an exciting future... and a real boost to the American economy, too.

For more information: Stratolaunch press release (pdf)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Maybe America isn't lost in space yet

When President Obama mothballed the Space Shuttle program, he told the nation that America's private sector would quickly take up the challenge of travel to and from low Earth orbit.

Many scoffed. I scoffed.

But today comes word that SpaceX has reached agreement with NASA to launch a supply mission to the International Space Station with an unmanned, reusable Dragon capsule (like the one pictured above). The target date for this historic attempt is February 7, 2012. (AP coverage per Yahoo! News).

Alex Knapp writes today on about that mission:
The first phase will begin after the Dragon capsule achieves orbit. NASA has set forward several milestones for the capsule to meet, including a flyby of the space station. If those objectives are met, then the capsule will rendezvous with the ISS, using the station’s robotic arm as operated by the ISS crew.

If the flyby, rendezvous and release are successful, this will mark the first successful docking of a private spacecraft with the International Space Station – a huge leap forward for the future of commercial spaceflight.
SpaceX hopes to get the Dragon capsule rated for human transport -- which means American astronauts would no longer be obliged to hitch rides to the International Space Station with the Russians.

And then SpaceX (a company run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk) will be able to boldly go wherever it darn well pleases.

Maybe we will back to the Moon in my lifetime. But, first, we have to get by February 7. Put it on your calendar.

Corrected 12/17/11

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cyber Monday: It's not just for Amazaon any more

Black Friday got moved back to Thanksgiving evening this year as retailers looked to get a head start on the vital Christmas shopping season.

Traffic reports on Black Friday morning skipped past the nearly empty expressways to provide detailed reports on where the cars really were -- looking for parking places at area malls.

Black Friday was followed by Small Business Saturday. This, in turn, was followed by Cyber Monday.

What? Nobody could come up with a clever name for the First Sunday of Advent?

On Cyber Monday, when people are supposed to be back at work,online retailers (etailers?) get a surge in business from people using their office computers for personal shopping.

But take a look at these souvenirs from my inbox:

On Cyber Monday 2011, it looks like these providers were trying to sell stuff to lawyers for work, at work.

Is that legal?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

If you're not watching Eagles-Seahawks on Thursday Night Football tonight....

And, if you are, you can always set your DVR....

The O'Malley and Jean-Baptiste interviews will be posted on Page One within the next few days.