With the final space shuttle launch, a great period of technological advancement as man reached out into space will come to an end. For me, this holds a special place, as I had the fortune to grow up minutes from the Kennedy Space Center complex, and though I no longer live there, the memories of everything will stick with me forever.
The Space Transportation System (STS) was a marvel of engineering and technology when it was conceived. Though it had been thought impossible, the ingenuity of man, along with a huge team of dreamers and thinkers, made it happen. And seamlessly, mankind moved from expendable rocketry to reusable and viable space transport. It was the birth of a new era; one from which we have derived soda cans, Velcro, Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), Aircraft anti-icing systems, groundbreaking medications that can be made only in microgravity, reverse lightning rods, fire resistant housing materials, an implantable heart resynchronization device, better and cheaper manufacturing methods for contact lenses, lightweight lifesaving equipment for emergency personnel, better methods of forecasting severe weather, and of course, Tang, the orange powder drink so often associated with the space program.
In part two of this six part series, we will be looking at the fifth of the top six obscure dangers involved in human spaceflight. In our first installment (located here – Obscure Dangers of Spaceflight: Moon Dust) we saw how deadly moon dust could be. Today, we are going to take a look at the threat posed by paint chips and stray bolts that are out there, orbiting the Earth.
The first private company to successfully launch a ship into space, and return it safely to Earth, continues to make headlines this month. With the successful completion of the first ‘feathered’ flight test, a test conducted with the VSS Enterprise, Virgin has shown us that not only can they get a spacecraft into the upper atmosphere, an area we know as ‘space’, but that they also have a simplistic method of turning the craft into a re-entry vehicle that is capable of bringing its passengers home.
The test doesn’t last very long, but spectators can clearly see why it was so important to test this feature of the Enterprise. In the video, viewers can watch as the Enterprise drops away from its carrier vehicle, White Knight Two. Once clear of the other plane, the Enterprise then extends ‘the feather’ and viewers can see as the wings of the craft fold up into what is called a ‘shuttlecock’ position, allowing the craft to fall freely without tumbling or losing stability.
As the craft nears the ground, the wings are then pinned back into place, where they support ‘glider mode’. The ship then returns to its landing strip in the California Mojave Desert.
Though flight tests are scheduled to continue throughout this year and next, hundreds of people have already signed up and paid deposits of $200,000 to secure their chance at being one of the first ‘space tourists’ to fly. This money buys an experience that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else for a long time; a short trip to over sixty-two miles above the planet and a few minutes of weightlessness.
You can view the demonstration and test here.
It’s inevitable. At some point in the future, mankind will finally leave the cradle of Earth to explore the vastness of space. When that time comes, however, it probably won’t be much like it is portrayed through the science fiction of today. Instead, the men and women who will be traveling through the great void in the future will not have to worry about laser weapons and asteroids, but they will have to worry about many other, almost mundane, dangers involved in traveling through space. For each one of the red shirts that die due to some awesome explosion or laser based weapon, hundreds more will die from one of these six causes.