Once the sole pioneers in space, the United States space agency (NASA) now readies to mothball its manned space vehicles with just two flights remaining in the Space Shuttle program. The agency will now abandon its mission in space for one of Muslim outreach on earth. Meanwhile, the Russian space agency appears to be showing new signs of life, as news of its new pilotless space shuttle emerges.
Modeled more after the Air Force’s so-called mini space shuttle, the X-37B, the Russians have developed a new space shuttle of their own, according to a report filed by CNET.
A high ranking Russian space agency official confirmed to media sources that it is working on a new space plane, but complete details are unclear.
The CNET report also alludes to an effort by China to construct a mini shuttle similar to the X-37B.
Not the first time
Although the news of the new Russian space vehicle may surprise some people, it may be even more surprising to them to learn that Russia has previously built a full scale version of the American space shuttle, and launced it on a successful mission in 1988. Called the Buran, the shuttle had a larger payload capacity than the American version, but was mothballed in 1993 when the Russians canceled the program. Since then, the orbiter was practically destroyed when its hangar collapsed on top of it in 2002.
The Russians had also formed an agreement to work on a new space shuttle with the Europeans, according to an IEEE report from 2005, but the status of that project is unclear.
About the X-37B
Constructed under secrecy, the United States Air Force now has a small space shuttle of its own, flying without the aid of a human being. The space craft was first launched by the Air Force nearly one year ago and has conducted a successful maiden voyage that lasted the greater part of the year.
Although presumed primarily for military use, the mission of the X-37B is veiled, with only basic details about the vehicle and its payload being revealed by military brass.
The appearance of the X-37B in the Air Force’s fleet appears to address the military’s concerns over being left without a flexible and reusable space vehicle.
The International Space Station
Although the Air Force’s X-37B appears to be a successful program, there appears to be little or no possibility that it can be used to fill the void left by the much larger space shuttle program which has been key to supplying the International Space Station (ISS).
A new generation of space vehicles that was to be used to replace the shuttle, take Americans back to the moon and eventually head for Mars was scrapped by Obama last summer as he re-directed NASA on a mission to the Muslim world.