Thursday, September 18, 2003

Wacky New Fossil!

Animals just used to be cooler. Check this out:

It would be an exterminator’s worst nightmare: A 1,545-pound rodent with a voracious appetite and big teeth. Resembling a guinea pig grown to the size of a buffalo, the animal lived millions of years ago in a South American swamp and is thought to be history’s biggest rodent

Neat! Imagine buying guinea pig chow for this thing. Whew! More detailed coverage here.

Apollo Redux?

One of the suggested configurations for the "shuttle replacement" - really a misnomer since NASA actually needs a couple of different vehicles to replace the shuttle, one a taxi for the space station and other orbital needs, one a "pickup truck" to carry supplies, like a bigger version of the Russian Progress, and a "big rig" to haul up large loads - is an updated Apollo capsule. While this sounds like a bit of a step back, it has a couple of advantages. For one thing, the ballistic shape is thoroughly understood and design will be pretty straightforward. Although the original Apollos only carried three astronauts, during the Skylab flights a special "rescue Apollo" was available that had five seats, and indeed a design with four or five seats would be more useful. Lastly, and I hadn't thought of it until I read this article, an updated Apollo would, unlike the shuttle, be capable of lunar flights.

The capsule design gained momentum in March from a study headed by astronaut John Young, who has flown in both capsules and shuttles.

Young, as well as Michael Kostelnick, head of NASA's human space flight program, cite the versatility of the capsule, which can move beyond low Earth orbit to the moon or beyond.

Rogacki said the orbital space plane requirements did not demand the vehicle be capable of deep space travel but that NASA will be looking at its ability to support missions beyond the International Space Station.

"There is a great potential for using the orbital space plane system as a basis for future exploration vehicles," Rogacki said.

The thermal tiles and wing panels used on the shuttle today could not withstand the heat and stress of trans-lunar re-entries.

The fact that John Young is involved in this study gives me confidence. Sometimes older is better, and this could be a money-saving solution for NASA.


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