A privately funded spacecraft is officially scheduled to launch to the moon in late 2017. The Google Lunar Xprize competition announced this morning that a team from Israel is the first to verify a launch contract to leave Earth. SpaceIL's spacecraft will ride to the moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The Apollo spacecraft came in two livable parts, but they were small. The command module was the gumdrop-shaped vehicle that was the crew's main living quarters. 10 feet 7 inches from base to apex and 12 feet 10 inches around at the base, the 210 cubic feet of livable space was crammed with three couches and all the instrumentation and display panels the crew would need to manage the entire lunar mission. This was the vehicle the astronauts launched in and the one fitted with a heat shield that would keep them safe during their fiery return through the Earth's atmosphere. It was their home away from home in space.
The Martian is easily one of the best sci-fi films out there, and part of what makes it so incredible was the intense attention to detail. The story has a pedigree of accuracy, as Andy Weir, author of the book that the movie was based on, took a lot of care in getting the science right. Even though both film and book are completely fictitious, a lot of the science is real, including the setting.
For years, the United Launch Alliance—a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin—provided the U.S. Air Force's only way of getting satellites into orbit. After a lot of contention, SpaceX broke up that monopoly in May of this year, when the company got permission to start launching national security payloads. Now, it seems ULA can't compete with SpaceX.
It almost feels wrong to label The Martian as science fiction. Based on the book that computer programmer Andy Weir researched for three years, the movie feels like it could happen in real life any day now. You'll find no suspended animation, jump drives, or wormholes in this flick—just technologies that NASA is already using or could develop in the near future.
Let's get one thing straight: The Martian is a darn good movie and you should definitely go see it when it comes out. (Or better yet, read the book!) In addition to just being a great tale about man versus nature, the story is a culmination of years of research by the author and computer programmer, Andy Weir, and it's pretty accurate as a result.