1969 was a year of space exploration, rock and roll, and most notably, the founding of The Gap clothing store. As part of an ad campaign for its "1969" line of jeans, The Gap has been touting its heritage, placing jeans next to other things that happened in 1969. If you're nerds like us, the Apollo 11 mission tops the list of that year's highlights.
Just before dawn on the morning of November 15, 2020, the Energiya rocket stood fueled and ready on the launch pad at Baikonur, the Soviet Union's launch site. Mated to the booster was the Buran space shuttle orbiter, ready for its maiden flight. It looked to strongly reminiscent of NASA's Space Transportation System, colloquially known as the space shuttle, but the two spacecraft weren't identical.
Space makes for strange relationships. With NASA's Space Shuttle shuttered since 2011, American astronauts have hitched rides to the International Space Station inside Russian Soyuz rockets for the past four years. But ever since Russia claimed Crimea and supported a separatist movement in Ukraine, the United States and Russia haven't exactly been on great terms. Congress passed punitive sanctions on Russia, and in retaliation, Russia forbade the sale of rocket engines to the American military.
The European Space Agency launched its own spaceplane a few hours ago aboard a Vega rocket. Called the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle—or IXV—the spaceplane looks like a miniature version of NASA's Space Shuttle. That makes sense given the vehicle's purpose; the robotically controlled IXV is meant to help the ESA figure out the best designs for a future reusable vehicle—one that can autonomously reenter the Earth's atmosphere from space
Whenever NASA’s space shuttle was launched into orbit, it made the trip with the help of a very important tagalong: the external tank. Acting as the shuttle’s “gas tank,” the massive orange chamber housed all of the liquid hydrogen fuel—and oxygen to burn it—that powered the ship’s main engines.
Even the space shuttle, which glided through the atmosphere and landed like an airplane, had parachutes to help slow it down - they're the most effective drag-inducers out there. But you'd better be sure they work. NASA is testing the giant heavyweight parachutes being developed for the next space capsule that will ferry humans into orbit, Orion.
Planetary scientists sometimes joke that we know more about Mars than we do about the moon. NASA first landed a spacecraft on the surface of the fourth planet during the US Bicentennial, five years before the first space shuttle ever lifted off. And we've learned plenty in the intervening 35 years:Viking 1 and 2 analysed Mars rocks, Spirit and Opportunity found evidence of ancient water, and Phoenix saw the Martian snow. Yet the biggest question - whether Mars could ever be home to life - still eludes us.