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Science & Engineering

Where is America’s New Space Center?

Founded in 1961, Johnson Space Center in Houston was a hub of aerospace activity in the 1960s and 70s. The facility trained the astronauts who first walked on the moon and helped develop the Space Shuttle program. Then Kennedy Space Center at Florida’s Cape Canaveral came online in 1962 and became the epicenter of space exploration during the 80s and 90s. So where is America’s next spaceport?


Virgin Galactic is betting heavily on the future of space tourism with the sleek SpaceShip Two passenger ship. It can reach sub-orbit space. 

The Mojave Air & Space Port sits in the middle of the California desert and it’s already attracting new legions of ambitious young rocketeers and space scientists.

If you want to see where the future takes flight, this is it, approximately 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The Mojave Air & Space Port compound is a former military base that occupies some 3,300 acres and is home to about 100 aircraft hangars. The flat desert terrain provides a great location for the 2-mile-long runway. And there’s lots of room for blasting rockets off into the wild blue yonder.

Look around and you’ll find not only genius scientists but inventors and space engineers of every type. At one end of the spectrum, small groups of rocketeers launching their first DIY experiments. At the other end, well-financed corporations planning how to make space travel (including space tourism) and the further exploration of space into profit-making enterprises that could also help unlock the mysteries of the universe.

NASA’s New Business Model
The Mojave Air & Space Port is a new idea for a tougher economic age. The business of space exploration has changed dramatically lately with NASA’s decision to end America’s space shuttle program. In essence, NASA has been cutting away some of its more expensive programs as a means of making America’s space agency financially leaner and more sound. The space shuttle and its operation was intensive and costly. Although NASA is still sponsoring unmanned explorations (such as the Mars Rover project, and its probe to Venus), the days of U.S. space shuttles transporting cargo and people into space—at least for now—are over.


The Mojave Air & Space Port plays home to deep-pocketed corporations as well as small, passionate groups of DIY rocketeers.

The Mojave Air & Space Port fills that gap by providing a location where all types of corporations and individuals can work on their various space-oriented projects. The concept for the space port was originated by Virgin corporation president, Richard Branson. Branson, a thrill-seeker himself, was attracted to the idea, as were other corporate heads (such as Microsoft’s Paul Allen).

See Outer Space (And Be Back for Dinner)
Each company based at the Mojave Air & Space Port has a stake of some kind in space travel. Branson’s company, for example, plans to be the first to fly space tourists into low-levels of outer space via space shuttle-like craft. These passengers would take off from landing strips on the desert floor and embark on short, multi-hour excursions to the nearest edge of outer space. The ultimate in sight-seeing—a quick trip out of this world and then back down to earth in time for dinner.


Virgin Galactic recently acquired The Spaceship Company (here unveiling a new hangar at the Mojave Air & Space Port), showing its intention of shaping the space-tourism marketplace.

Other companies are busily tinkering with exploration and cargo-transport projects, in hopes of winning contracts with NASA itself. As the agency embraces its new business model, that means that (like many corporations these days) NASA will be outsourcing some of its activities to private space contractors.

Boldly Going to Space Camp 
While the Space Shuttle program may have ended, it’s the dawn of a new age in space exploration. For kids interested in space exploration, space camp is the place to start. At Digital Media Academy’s tech camp, kids learn science and engineering in a fun and creative way. Blasting off water rockets and learning how things work can turn your curious child into an aeronautics engineer. After all, it’s the new generation of discoverers that will lead us into tomorrow…and deeper into the far reaches of space.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog,Science & Engineering and have No Comments

Space Shuttle Endeavour Takes Final Journey

On Thursday, Space Shuttle Endeavour will embark on its very last journey. After an amazing twenty years in space, Endeavour is headed toward its final home on earth.


Space Shuttle Endeavor being detached from the Boeing 747 carrier jet it hitched a final ride on. (Click image for a larger view.)

Space Shuttle Endeavour flew 25 missions, including 12 missions to help construct and outfit the International Space Station. But now the traveling days of this “frequent flyer” are over. The space shuttle is now earthbound.

Endeavour’s “Victory Lap”
The fifth and final NASA space shuttle built as a replacement for Challenger (which was destroyed 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986), Space Shuttle Endeavour first flew way back in May 1992, as part of the STS-49 mission.


The Los Angeles Times 360 degree view of the shuttle Endeavour: bringing you the shuttle up close and personal.

The craft remained in service through its last trip into space, during the STS-134 mission of May 2011. The final landing of Endeavour also marks the end of America’s space shuttle program. With the last outfitting of the International Space Station (a permanently staffed floating space laboratory located 250 miles above Earth) completed, the shuttle program was seen as no longer being essential and NASA retired the shuttle fleet.

Space Shuttle Endeavour made a slow journey from its previous home in Florida to its final location in California. Ironically, Endeavour was constructed in California (following the Challenger tragedy) and its trip home on the back of a specially built 747 was a nostalgic one for Californians.

Grounded in Los Angeles 
The process of getting Endeavour to its final resting place at the California Science Center was a challenging one. It all started when the space shuttle was flown piggy-back style on a NASA Boeing 747 aircraft from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to Los Angeles International Airport. It took landing crews 12 hours to detach the Endeavour from the 747 that had carried it on its last flight.

Once safely on the ground, those crews used giant cranes to raise the aircraft enough to be maneuvered into a special hangar at the airport.


Los Angeles locals will experience the worst traffic jam since Carmageddon when the Endeavour rolls through town.

Endeavour is perched atop a special transporter vehicle designed to safely haul the 78-ton aircraft through the streets of Los Angeles. When it eventually find its new home at the Science Center’s Samuel Oschin Display Pavilion, Endeavour will take up residence as the most famous exhibit there. It will go on public display on Oct. 30, when the Endeavour exhibit opens to the public.

Shuttle Stats:

  • Endeavour racked up nearly 123 million miles (198 million km) of space travel during 4,671 flights.
  • Endeavour made some twenty low-altitude fly-bys over noted California landmarks like San Francisco and Disneyland on its last flight.
  • The transporter that will carry the shuttle to the California Science Center will take two-days to cover the twelve miles journey.
  • Named after a ship chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768 and captained by 18th century British explorer James Cook, an experienced seaman, navigator and amateur astronomer. Cook commanded a crew of 93 men, including 11 scientists and artists.
  • During an Endeavour mission the longest in space walk in history was recorded; the stroll lasted more than eight hours.
  • Endeavour’s STS-118 mission flight was the first launch for the orbiter in more than four years.

 


The spaceship in its prime; here 400 miles above Earth and waiting to dock with the International Space Station.

So as Endeavour takes a well-deserved final bow, we think about how its cargo transport enabled the establishment of the International Space Station and the tremendous amount of knowledge that we’ve subsequently gained in our understanding of the universe we all share.

For kids interested in becoming astronauts, they shouldn’t worry: Space travel will continue without Endeavour. And ultra-modern space camps will keep inspiring future generations of explorers.

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posted by Vince Matthews in News Blog,Science & Engineering and have No Comments