Things are on hold for the moment for the LightSail, the new solar sail spacecraft launched last week by Bill Nye and his Planetary Society organization. The prototype satellite, which uses energy from the Sun to propel through space has suffered a computer malfunction while in lower Earth orbit, ceasing communication between the tiny spacecraft and Earth.
For the first time ever, NASA has drawn up a contract with a private company to bring humans into space. In late 2017, the space agency plans to send Boeing's spacecraft on a crew rotation mission, which means bringing fresh astronauts to the International Space Station and bringing home the old ones. SpaceX can expect a similar contract later this year.
Travel to and from the International Space Station occurs with such regularity these days, it hardly seems worth remarking. The only exception is when things go wrong, as with the recent case of the errant Russian Soyuz cargo spacecraft (which fortunately had no people aboard). Indeed, it's easy to forget that every single voyage up to the 925,000-pound, football-field-sized station circling high above us in lower Earth orbit takes an extraordinary amount of mechanical precision and human skill.
"Air Force" is becoming an increasingly inaccurate name for the flying branch of America's armed forces. Responsible for some but not all of its aerial machines, the Air Force is also in charge of domains beyond the reach of ocean-bound navies or ground-hugging armies; it wants to guarantee American military superiority in both cyberspace and actual space, and to that end, they're now letting a second venture carry their projects into the vacuum beyond our planet.
At the beginning of the year, NASA got some exciting news from the Obama Administration: The space agency is finally getting funding to send a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa by the mid-2020s. With a subsurface ocean suspected to be lingering underneath its icy crust, Europa is one of the top candidates in our solar system for finding extraterrestrial life. And NASA hopes its probe can figure out if conditions are right for little aliens to exist.
We're on our way to Mars. NASA has a plan to land astronauts on its surface by the 2030s. Private spaceflight companies like SpaceX have also expressed interest in starting their own colonies there, while the infamous Mars One project has, if nothing else, demonstrated there are thousands of people willing to sign up for a one-way trip.