May 14, 2013
This morning, for the first time in history, a combat aircraft with no pilot onboard took off from an aircraft carrier at sea.
The X-47B demonstrator launched from the USS George H.W. Bush off the coast of Virginia at 11:18 a.m., and flew to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.
“Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy,” said Vice Adm. David Buss, commander of the Naval Air Forces, in a released statement.
Next up on the list of milestones — flying approaches and landings on a pitching flight deck.
May 13, 2013
Somebody had to do it.
Commander Chris Hadfield returns to Earth this evening, along with Expedition 34/35 crewmates Dr. (not Major) Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko. NASA TV coverage of their departure from the International Space Station begins at 3:30.
May 10, 2013
Their name originally was Loughead, Scottish for “lake’s head.” We know them today as the Lockheed brothers, Allan and Malcolm, who in 1912 founded what became one of the world’s biggest aerospace companies. Allan, the younger brother, had taught himself to fly two years earlier in a Curtiss pusher airplane — the kind of daring common among that pioneering generation of aviators.
For the sons of Flora Loughead, risk-taking was nothing unusual, because she herself may have been the most adventurous member of the family.
Born Flora Haines in 1855, she took the name of her second husband, John Loughead, at the age of 30, and within three years gave birth to Malcolm and Alan. She was no stay-at-home housewife, living vicariously through her kids. As Lockheed biographer Walter Boyne sums up, “She was a journalist, married three times, had five children by two husbands, worked her own mining claims, farmed thirty-five acres, wrote many articles and more than a dozen books, taught her children at home, and in general behaved in a manner that would be widely applauded today but was unheard of at the time.”
As a newspaper reporter, she covered everything from bicycle races to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and as an author she wrote both fiction and nonfiction books. You can read some of them here.
Flora wasn’t, however, the one who got her boys interested in aviation. That was eldest son Victor, who wrote (in 1910 as Victor Lougheed), Vehicles of the Air.
Always independent and a little cheeky, Flora wrote — at a time when her future aviators were just five and two years old — a book that any modern parent can relate to: Quick Cooking: A Book of Culinary Heresies for the Busy Wives and Mothers of the Land. It was signed “By One of the Heretics.”
May 9, 2013
“We need to do something to get started.”
There was a subtext of desperation in Dennis Tito‘s plea at this week’s Humans to Mars conference in Washington, considering he’d just spent the last few minutes dashing all hope that the U.S. government will send people to Mars any time soon.
But Tito doesn’t seem desperate. In fact, it’s amazing how cool and collected he and his fellow space pioneers sounded as they described two wildly ambitious, privately funded Mars missions: a 500-day round-trip for two (Tito’s Inspiration Mars), and an even more daring one-way trip to the surface for four pioneers (Mars One).
The backers admit that yes, they have their work cut out for them. They talk like sober space engineers, with data, viewgraphs, and a list of technical advisors. It’ll be tough, they say, but doable. And we’re meant to find that inspiring.
Well, you may say I’m not a dreamer — and I’m not the only one.
Consider Tito’s plan. They’ll need to launch in 2018 to hit the launch window for their particular mission design (a swingby with no landing). Elon Musk of SpaceX, maybe the most audacious engineer of our time, took 10 years to design, build and launch unmanned cargo ships to low Earth orbit. Judging from his experience alone, I’d say there’s almost no chance Inspiration Mars will be ready in just five years.
Mars One aims to launch in 2022, but will need to start sending technology demo missions in 2016, just three years from now. Again, I have to think it’s very, very unlikely.
Still, there’s something poignant about this business of passing the hat for space settlement. In the first two weeks of accepting applications (the registration fee varies according to country; Afghans pay just $5, while Qataris pay $73) the organization got 78,000 applicants. Some of the applicants’ videos can be seen here.
Mars One isn’t the first company to believe they can finance a multibillion dollar space mission by selling media rights. Others thought they could do the same with trips to the International Space Station and robots on the moon. None of it has come to pass.
The current enthusiasm for crowdsourcing space, from Astronaut Abby to Uwingu, seems driven partly by the early success of commercial ventures like SpaceX, and partly by the explosive growth of social media. It has more to do with Twitter than Apollo, but in 2013, that’s where we’re at.
May 8, 2013
On its fourth and final flight, the X-51A Waverider made history last week: the longest flight ever for an air-breathing scramjet engine.
An Air Force B-52 dropped the unmanned test vehicle from about 50,000 feet over the ocean off southern California, after which it flew more than 230 nautical miles in about six minutes. Top speed: Mach 5.1.
The Air Force has no immediate plans for follow-on tests. But in this Boeing promotional video, Joseph Vogel, the company’s director of hypersonics, explains the technology’s promise:
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