The past and future of America’s space arsenal intersected, briefly, in the summer of 2011. For two weeks in July, NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis roughly shared its Earth orbit with the Air Force’s X-37B, a 29-foot-long, highly maneuverable robotic spacecraft that entered service in early 2010 and has been cloaked in secrecy ever since. The X-37 was around 80 miles higher than the Shuttle, so it’s doubtful the four-person Atlantis crew, conducting the 135th and last Shuttle mission, ever saw the robotic craft. The X-37′s small size — barely a quarter the length of Atlantis — made a sighting even less likely.
Archived posts with tag ‘Space Shuttle’
The Air Force’s mysterious X-37B “space plane” is only on its second, eight-month-plus orbital mission, ostensibly conducting science experiments. But manufacturer Boeing has already drawn up plans for a major upgrade to the nimble, 29-foot-long robot — one that could more than double the vehicle’s size and make room for up to six astronauts.
When the Space Shuttle flew its 135th and final mission in July and retired without a direct replacement, some critics accused Washington of abandoning America’s 50-year orbital legacy. The Telegraph even called it a “retreat.”
After 30 years and 135 missions, it’s curtains for NASA’s Space Shuttle. The Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on Friday for one last rendezvous with the International Space Station, bringing to an end the current era of impressive — but pricey and dangerous — manned spaceflight. But never fear! America’s space arsenal might be down four giant Shuttles, but there’s still plenty of U.S. government hardware orbiting the Earth, much of it top secret.