This has been a big weekend for space events, but due to the election, debate, and financial crisis, it's gotten pretty buried in the news. Here's my quick synopsis of the two big stories.
Space-X Successfully Launched the Falcon 1
Space-X is a private company that has designed and built a series of rocket called the Falcon 1. Space-X is a topic of much debate in the space world. All other launch technology has been government funded, so a private launch company is a big change for this industry, and some people feel it cannot be successful. Space-X launches are advertised to be much cheaper than other launches available. The main competitor is Lockheed Martin and Boeing's combined United Launch Alliance (ULA). Some feel that ULA is too entrenched in the industry and inefficient. Some people, particularly those who have been in the industry a long time feel that Space-X is impractical and unlikely to succeed.
Space-X has previously had three unsuccessful launch attempts, with failures at various stages in flight. This has caused many who had doubts in the first place to feel they were right, and some who were hoping for Space-X to succeed to begin to give up hope. So Space-X really needed a successful launch. And, as you can see in the title, they got one! Now we'll see if they can continue to repeat this success and watch the industry react.
China's 3-Day Manned Space Mission Succeeded
At the end of last week, China launched their Shenzhou 7 spacecraft, with a 3-man crew. During the three-day mission, they completed a space walk (went outside the spacecraft into space), and used Chinese-designed spacesuits. Yesterday, they landed safely back on Earth. China's space program is advancing rapidly - in only three flights, they've accomplished much of what the United States did in its first 10 years. China's space program causes some concern among American leaders. The U.S. relationship with China is somewhat tense. Even in the area of space, where cooperation sometimes is possible despite other political issues, there is residual tension due to China's ASAT (anti-satellite) test in January 2007. China's space program is run by the People's Liberation Army, and the goals are not always as transparent as the United States would like. Regardless, the successful mission is very exciting and marks China as one of the few space powers in the world.