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2007 In Review: The Year That Was In Aerospace

Following a very successful 2006, NASA saw its fortunes slip slightly in 2007... as the shuttle program was hit with a series of glitches highlighting the agency's reliance on the aging technology, and casting doubts on whether the agency will be able to wrap up the program by the mandated 2010 retirement date.

NASA also had to deal with the unwelcome spotlight -- and numerous jokes on late-night television -- over the arrest of astronaut Lisa Nowak, and a report claiming astronauts have ridden into orbit while intoxicated on at least two occasions.

NASA had better luck with its unmanned probes, as the Mars Phoenix lander and Dawn spacecraft successfully lifted off. NASA and the Russian space program saw increased competition from other countries, however, as China and Japan launched their own lunar probes... and commercial space enterprises like Blue Origin and SpaceX made further progress in their respective programs.


The billionaire founder of Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, releases video showing the successful November 2006 launch of Goddard -- what the company says is a first development vehicle in its New Shepard program. Goddard climbed to nearly 300 feet AGL, then softly lowered itself back to the ground... NASA completes the Ares I crew launch vehicle system requirements review -- the first such milestone for a US human-rated launch vehicle system in more than 30 years... It wasn't intentional -- but if scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch is correct, two NASA probes sent to explore the possibility of life on Mars 30 years ago may have killed the very life they were trying to find... NASA says human error may have doomed the long-lasting Mars Global Surveyor... NASA hires Patrick Rhode, former chief of staff and deputy director at the Federal Emergency Management Agency during its oft-disparaged response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, as a senior advisor to agency Administrator Michael Griffin... XCOR Aerospace announces a series of successful test firings of its new 7,500 pound thrust rocket engine... Officials confirm China used a ground-based ballistic missile to blow apart an aging Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite... NASA announces the Hubble Space Telescope's main camera -- its most powerful -- has shut down unexpectedly and it's unlikely scientists will be able to return it to its full capability... Commercial rocket company Sea Launch loses both a rocket and the commercial communications satellite destined to serve Netherlands-based SES New Skies in an unsuccessful launch attempt. The Zenit-3SL rocket exploded on the mobile floating launch platform stationed in the equatorial Pacific.


NASA says the space agency's upcoming Orion spacecraft will continue to fly to the International Space Station until 2020 -- four years longer than originally planned... Astronaut Lisa Nowak is arrested in Orlando, FL after driving 900 miles to confront fellow spacefarer Colleen Shipman, whom she believed to be a rival for the affections of fellow astronaut Navy Commander William Oefelein... While most of our attention on President Bush's proposed FY2008 budget centered on the contentious issue of user fees in the aerospace community, the American Institution of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) notes one area of the fiscal plan shows promise: the amount of funding allotted for NASA... Representatives with the United States, China, and Russia hurl accusations during a disarmament debate aimed at preventing an all-out arms race in space... A group of scientists, astronauts, and engineers call upon the United Nations to rally an "Armageddon"-style space mission to deal with the problem of killer asteroids... A hailstorm at Cape Canaveral causes damage to the shuttle Atlantis' external fuel tank, forcing the agency to postpone the planned March 15 launch to effect repairs.


NASA Administrator Michael Griffin says due to cost constraints, the agency's Orion space vehicle won't fly until 2015 -- three years later than planned... NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons probe speeds past Jupiter, as the ESA's Rosetta spacecraft nears Mars on its way to a 2014 encounter with comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko -- giving both space agencies the opportunity to "tag team" their efforts to study the solar system's largest planet... In a move guaranteed to alarm -- well, alarmists -- NASA says it simply cannot afford to locate asteroids capable of devastating hits to the Earth... The Orbital Express demonstration spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. The satellite is part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program aimed at demonstrating fully autonomous on-orbit spacecraft servicing capabilities... Continuing a streak of bad news from NASA, Administrator Griffin concedes it's possible China will reach the moon before the US returns there... It looked good to start, but problems creep up five minutes into the second launch of SpaceX's Falcon I rocket. Company founder Elon Musk says problems arose with roll control in the later portion of the second stage burn... Expedition 14-15 crewmember Sunita Williams -- stuck in space onboard the International Space Station due to the delayed launch of Atlantis -- says she will "run" in April's Boston Marathon, on a station treadmill.


Four years after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry, scattering debris over Texas and Louisiana, Jonathon Clark -- husband of Columbia astronaut Laurel Clark -- says he's still looking for his wife's wedding ring, which Laurel wore on a chain around her neck while in orbit... A bill calling for an increase in gross-receipts taxes for residents of Doña Ana County, to fund New Mexico's proposed Spaceport America, narrowly wins voter approval... Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and cosmonaut Oleg Kotov blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Also onboard the Soyuz capsule is space "tourinaut" Charles Simonyi... Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan receives US Patent Number 7,195,207 for the revolutionary "shuttlecock," or "feathering" wing atmospheric reentry system, seen on Rutan's SpaceShipOne vehicle... NASA's Kennedy Space Center hosts the flight of a privately operated F-104, the first in a series of "pathfinder" test missions from the space shuttle runway... A contract worker takes hostages inside Building 44 at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. The standoff ends with the fatal shooting of one hostage, and the apparent suicide of the gunman... NASA says it will bring astronaut Sunita Williams home onboard Atlantis, instead of Endeavour -- which, due to delays in the launch of the former shuttle, isn't scheduled to blast off until August... NASA successfully completes the first of several planned checkout test flights of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft, a modified Boeing 747SP designed to study the universe in the infrared spectrum... The second time is the charm for UP Aerospace, which successfully launches its SL-2 mission from New Mexico -- but isn't able to recover the missing rocket until mid-May... Famed scientist, astrophysicist, researcher and educator Stephen Hawking experiences weightlessness onboard a Zero-G flight.


NASA mulls over potential health issues related to the agency's planned missions to Mars -- including what to do if an astronaut dies enroute, or whether preventative surgeries, such as removing an astronaut's appendix, should be performed beforehand. One area NASA refuses to touch: the question of sex, which NASA deems a "behavioral" issue, not a medical one... The head of the Russian program says the United States rejected that agency's proposal for the two countries to work together in returning to the moon -- news that comes as a surprise to NASA, which maintains it hasn't rejected any such offers... NASA selects The Boeing Company and Textron Systems to develop alternate heat shield materials for the Orion crew exploration spacecraft... The Orbital Express spacecraft successfully performs a fully autonomous free-flight rendezvous and capture operation in orbit... NASA's Lunar Excavator Challenge ends without a winner, after all three teams' robotic diggers break down... The "US Aerospace Industry Analysis" shows the US continues to lead the global aerospace industry, growing last year by more than 8 percent to exceed $183.5 billion versus $169.8 billion in 2005 -- but warns changes are coming, including increased global competition and a declining global economy... China announces it plans to send a lunar orbiter skyward later in the year, the first step towards launching a moon lander and, eventually, a lunar rover... A patch of Martian soil analyzed by NASA's rover Spirit provide some of the strongest evidence yet that ancient Mars was much wetter than it is now... NASA gives the all-clear for a June 8 launch of the shuttle Atlantis, after a three-month delay caused by damage from a late February hailstorm.


The long, strange trip NASA's Dawn spacecraft has traveled to reach the stars takes yet another unexpected detour, as NASA announces a broken launch pad crane will delay the probe's planned June 30 launch by at least one week... It took three months longer than NASA had planned, but Atlantis finally heads skyward, carrying the latest building blocks of the International Space Station, and putting NASA's soon-to-be retired shuttle program back on track (for the moment)... NASA engineers determine a fourth spacewalk will be needed during Atlantis' stay at the ISS, so astronauts may tack down an insulating blanket apparently blown out of place during the orbiter's launch... California Congressman Duncan Hunter defends his support for the controversial duPont Aerospace DP-2. On paper, the DP2 is an inexpensive VTOL plane with a range of 5,000 miles and a top speed of 700 mph, capable of carrying 48 fully armed soldiers and a Humvee; in reality, a prototype has only been able to lift off a few feet, tethered to a trailer, before crashing back down... Russian space engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov successfully revive the computers onboard the ISS, four days after a systemwide failure which occurred soon after the crew of the US space shuttle Atlantis added solar panels to the space station... Speaking of Atlantis, the shuttle returns safely to Earth, with a landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California...  Bigelow Aerospace launches the Genesis II inflatable space station test module, offering a potential glimpse at future habitation areas in space.


NASA says it plans to reuse two older spacecraft on new missions to study comets and planets around other stars. The agency's Stardust and Deep Impact probes will soon be re-enlisted to study other planetary bodies; both spacecraft completed their primary missions within the past three years... The launch of the oft-delayed Dawn spacecraft, a mission that will explore the asteroids Ceres and Vespa, is rescheduled to September in order to free up time and resources for the launch of the Mars Phoenix lander... In the first maneuver of its kind, NASA is forced to move one of its orbiting spacecraft to avoid a potential collision with man-made debris resulting from  the test of a Chinese anti-satellite (A-Sat) weapon in January... The shuttle "Endeavor" completes its trip to Launch Pad 39A, ahead of a planned August launch... Scott J. "Doc" Horowitz, associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, announces plans to leave the agency in October... Northrop Grumman announces plans to increase its stake in maverick aerospace company Scaled Composites to 100 percent... In related, and sad, news, three workers are killed following an apparent explosion at a test facility used by Scaled at California's Mojave Air And Space Port. The blast occurs during a "cold fire" test of the nitrous-fueled engine to be used on the upcoming SpaceShipTwo vehicle... A controversial NASA report states on at least two occasions, astronauts were allowed to head into orbit despite showing signs of being intoxicated.


The new head of RKK Energia, the Russian company that produces the bulk of spacecraft used by that country, calls for "emergency administration" to stave off bankruptcy... NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission blasts off, aiming for a May 25, 2008 arrival at the Red Planet and a close-up examination of the surface of the northern polar region... For the first time in over four-and-a-half years, Endeavour heads into orbit... The agency's Mission Management Team determines a gouge on the underside of the space shuttle will not need to be repaired before the orbiter returns to Earth... Outgoing FAA Administrator Marion Blakey is named President and Chief Executive Officer of the Aerospace Industries Association, the trade association representing the nation's manufacturers of aerospace equipment, effective November 12... NASA announces it will remove troublesome insulating foam covering mounting brackets for the shuttle Discovery's external tank, and replace it with a material the agency says is less likely to shed during its October launch... A University of Minnesota astronomer says he has found the largest expanse of -- well, nothing -- ever seen in the known universe... NASA says it found no supporting evidence on reports of astronauts flying into space while inebriated.


A new extensive federal background check has some employees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory seeing bureaucratic red... Is it an inspiring visage, or space-age toilet seat? A team of US and British architects and designers unveils design renderings of New Mexico's Spaceport America... Samples taken from several NASA facilities suggest so-called "clean rooms," aren't so much... Col. Richard Bachmann Jr., who spearheaded a controversial astronaut health study that brought to light allegations of astronauts flying drunk, tells Congress NASA is hindering open communications when it blows off reports of astronaut drinking and behavior problems... After months of discussions between the two entities, officials at NASA send notice to Rocketplane Kistler, issuing a default letter which cuts off future funding on its portion of a $500 million development contract with the private spaceflight company. NASA pulls the contract in October... The X Prize Foundation and Google announce the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, a robotic race to the Moon... Japan's first lunar orbiter, Kaguya, launches successfully from the small island of Tanegashima, off the southern tip of Kyushu Island... Hundreds villagers in Peru become ill after a meteor impacts near the remote Andean village of Carancas, causing a foul-smelling odor... Nobel Prize-winning particle physicist Steven Weinberg slams manned space flight in general, as "... having produced nothing of scientific value"... After a tumultuous gestation process, NASA's Dawn spacecraft rockets towards the stars at long last.


A group of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) employees in California win a temporary victory in their fight against a new federal background check... The aerospace industry reflects on the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first manmade satellite, Russia's Sputnik... Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson, Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko and spaceflight participant Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor blast off towards the ISS... For the fifth time, NASA extends the missions of the long-lived Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity... Astronauts scheduled to ride onboard Discovery later in the month cite professionalism, over recent allegations of alcohol abuse against the space agency... The shuttle Discovery lifts off for the ISS... China's Chang'e lunar probe heads for the moon... Armadillo Aerospace goes 0-4 in its attempts to collect $350,000 in NASA funds in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge at the Wirefly X Prize Cup in Alamogordo, NM... NASA examines apparent damage to a new solar array during deployment at the ISS.


Mission managers at NASA shuffle planned spacewalks to address issues with the International Space Station's power generating systems... SpaceX breaks ground for a facility at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral... A Central Florida judge tosses out key evidence found during a search of a car belonging to former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, and statements she made to Orlando police after her arrest on kidnapping charges... Following a return path that crisscrossed the continental US, the shuttle Discovery lands safely in Florida... Lawmakers tell NASA to devote more funding to detecting planet-killer meteors... NASA determines a report of a smoke-like smell from a Russian cosmonaut testing his spacesuit on the ground was an isolated case, and shouldn't pose a problem for upcoming spacewalks at the International Space Station. Good thing, too, as several are planned in the weeks ahead to prepare the station for the arrival of a new module... The National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA will use Antarctica's harsh environment to test a new tent-like architecture for astronaut housing on the moon... China shares what it says is the first image of the moon from its Chang-e 1 lunar probe.


Chinese officials deny an Internet rumor the first photo of the lunar surface from its Chang'e orbiter was actually plagiarized from NASA... Following two other postponements, NASA delays launch of the space shuttle Atlantis on its STS-122 mission due to continued problems with fuel-level sensors inside the external fuel tank. The agency later pushes off the launch to early January... Thanks to a quintet of NASA satellites stationed over the Northern Hemisphere, scientists believe they now know what causes the strange phenomena of the auroras borealis, or the Northern Lights... Expedition 16 astronauts Dan Tani and Peggy Whitson complete the 100th spacewalk in support of construction of the ISS, searching for the causes of problems involving power generation onboard the station... SpaceX completes Systems Requirements Review (SRR) for what will be the third Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program... A Florida congressman called for an extra $10 billion in funding to NASA over the next five years, so the United States can maintain a manned space presence throughout the development of the agency's next-generation Orion spacecraft... The mother of NASA Flight Engineer Daniel Tani, one of three members of Expedition 16 now onboard the International Space Station, is killed when she reportedly drives her car around extended railroad crossing arms and is struck by a train... NASA says a newly-discovered asteroid, scheduled to make a low fly-by of Mars at the end of January 2008, may in fact strike near the red planet's equator... Saying more work needs to be done to modify the problematic ECO sensors inside the external fuel tank, NASA delays indefinitely the scheduled January 10 launch of Atlantis.

FMI: www.aero-news.net


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