James Webb Space Telescope
Hopefully launching around 2014, this new telescope is really exciting because of where it’s going to be. Instead of being in a very high orbit like The Hubble (which stretched the distance limit of the Shuttle where it’s at), the James Webb Space Telescope will be placed in orbit at the second Lagrange point. This is a specific spot in orbit between the Earth and Sun, on the other side of the moon, that the physics work out just right in that it will keep the telescope in orbit and in line with the Earth as it goes around the sun. It just sort of gets “locked” into place and won’t require thrusters to keep it in orbit. Putting a telescope that far out will cause service problems without a manned space program, but the idea of having one that far away is fascinating.
Mars Science Laboratory
In August, a the Curiosity rover will land on Mars. If nothing goes wrong, this new rover will begin exploring the Gale Crater. Curiosity is five times larger than Spirit or Opportunity, and is nearly as tall as a human being. This is the largest rover we’ve ever landed on the planet, so to see what it finds and sends back will be very interesting.
Civilian Space Flight
The recent success of SpaceX’s flight to the ISS was a really big deal for more than one reason. Now NASA doesn’t have to rely on Russia to get supplies to the station, and if SpaceX manages to get their manned spacecraft going…it may not be too long until we have a civilian in space (without paying Virgin Galactic $200k for a ticket). Civilian spaceflight could really become something big if more companies like SpaceX successfully launch and orbit spacecraft. It’s very exciting and could mark the dawn of a new era.
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