Congratulations to China and SpaceX!
First, was China's third manned space flight and first space walk. The 68-hour orbital flight aboard the Shenzhou VII spacecraft carried three taikonauts Zhai Zhigang, Li Boming, and Jing Haipeng. This was China's first space mission to carry a three-person crew. Commander Zhai Zhigang performed the approximately 20 minute spacewalk on September 27 and is shown waving the Chinese flag in the video below.
With ambitious plans to build a space station and go to the Moon, China is well on its way to making great strides in its manned spaceflight program. This has sparked some speculation of a new space race for valuable lunar resources. Who will be first to make it back to the Moon? China, the US, or a private company?
Speaking of private companies... The second big news in space this week was the successful launch to orbit of the SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket from its launch site in Kwajalein on September 28. This was the first private rocket to orbit the earth and is an important stepping stone to the upcoming Falcon 9 launch in early 2009. SpaceX is vying for the $278 million NASA COTS Award to provide a commercial cargo and crew launch service to the ISS. Click the image below to watch a video of the Falcon 1 launch.
SpaceX co-founder and CEO Elon Musk released this initial statement about SpaceX's achievement:
Wow, this is a great day for SpaceX and the culmination of an enormous amount of work by a great team. The data shows we achieved a super precise orbit insertion — middle of the bullseye — and then went on to coast and restart the second stage, which was icing on the cake.