Congratulations to China and SpaceX!

I just wanted to highlight two big achievements in spaceflight that happened over the past few days.

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?


Jet Man crosses the English Channel

In a previous post I highlighted the exciting birdlike flight by JetMan/FusionMan Yves Rossy.


Now, the adventurer has become the first person to fly across the English Channel using a personal rocket wing. With his four kerosene-powered jets mounted on a carbon fiber wing, Rossy completed the 22-mile (35-km) trip from Calais, France to Dover, UK in less than 8 minutes (5 powered, 3 parachute to ground), which seems to be a record for personal powered trips across the channel. In Rossy's own words,

I have proved it is possible to fly like a bird. My aim (was) to realize the dream. You have an idea in your head, and to actually achieve it is the most gratifying thing you can do.


Teachers, be a part-time astronaut!

In 1984, President Regan announced the Teacher in Space Project to put a teacher in space to inpsire students to pursue interests in math and science.  Out of over 11,000 applicants, NASA selected two candidates for opportunity: Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan.  Christa McAuliffe was supposed to be the first teacher in space on the 1986 STS-51-L Challenger mission, but unfortunately disaster struck.  Morgan was later selected as a NASA astronaut mission specialist and flew in space on STS-118 in 2007.  Her primary duty on that mission was operating the robotic arm to help add the S5 truss to the ISS, but she did spend about six hours teaching students from space.

In 2003, NASA announced the Educator Astronaut Project, which was similar to the previous Teachers in Space Project except that astronauts would undergo full training as mission specialists in addition to their teaching responsibilities.  Joseph Acaba, Richard Arnold and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger were selected as the first Mission Specialist Educators in the 2004.


Snoopy and NASA

The NASA Image of the Day today is shown below. I just wanted to share it because as a kid growing up I was a big Snoopy and Peanuts fan. I never knew there was an official connection between Snoopy and NASA. The picture caption reads:
In 1968, Snoopy was chosen as an official symbol of merit for America's Space Program and to this day, the Silver Snoopy is award to NASA employees who demonstrate excellence in their work. Through the decades, the connections between Peanuts and NASA have remained rich. In fact, the Apollo 10 command and lunar modules were named after Charlie Brown and the lovable beagle.


NASA's 2009 Astronaut Class Selection Timeline and Stats

There was recently a flurry of emails among Astronaut Hopefuls Group members on NASA's progress so far in in the 2009 astronaut class selection. I've modified the NASA timeline with what we know or expect so far:

September 2007 Vacancy Announcement opens at USAJOBS
July 1, 2008 Vacancy Announcement closes
3564 applications were received.
late September 2008 Applications reviewed to determine Qualified applicants
approximately 735 were disqualified, leaving 2800
October 2008 Qualified Applications reviewed to determine Highly Qualified applicants
~450 will be selected.
References for Highly Qualified applicants will be contacted via mail, and background checks will be done.
November 2008 Highly Qualified applications reviewed to determine Interviewees
~120 will be selected.
Interviewees will be contacted via phone.
November 2008 - January 2009 Interviewees brought to JSC for preliminary interview, medical evaluation, and orientation
(groups of 10 invited to Houston for 2.5 days of medical testing and interviews)
February 2009 Finalists determined
~40 will be selected.
February - March 2009 Finalists brought to JSC for additional interview and complete medical evaluation
(1 week long, with 2 groups during 2 weeks)
May 2009 Astronaut Candidate Class of 2009 announced
~15-20 will be selected.
August 2009 Astronaut Candidate Class of 2009 reports to the Johnson Space Center


Breakthrough in Space-based Solar Power

Everyone knows about the benefits of solar power. The notion probably conjures up images of shiny photovoltaic panels covering rooftops or large stretches of desert.

That's all great, but there are some serious limitations to current technologies for harvesting solar energy on the Earth's surface. For starters, it only works when the sun is out. That means you can't generate electricity at night, in very cloudy conditions, or at high latitudes where the sun's energy striking the earth is weaker. It's also inefficient, which is why it takes so much surface area to generate sufficient power. Despite these limitations, I'm actually a staunch advocate of solar power. That's why I'm currently having panels installed on my roof.

There is much talk in the media lately on the need for clean energy. I'm thrilled that politicians are finally taking the issue seriously. However, the debate on solving our energy crisis has largely ignored the one source that has no drawbacks: space-based solar power. All other forms have problems like greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, hazardous waste from nuclear plants, etc.

A breakthrough in space-based solar power was announced today. Former NASA executive and physicist John Mankins successfully beamed solar energy 92 miles (148 km) from Maui to the island of Hawaii. That's about the same distance as an array of solar panels in orbit would need to send the energy back to earth.