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Title says it all! A lot has happened recently in space travel.
First off, the well publicized Antares launch failure. 15 seconds into the launch one engine malfunctioned and then suffered what the rocket industry refers to as a "rapid unplanned disassembly" event. Range safety officer detonated the vehicle's self-destruct system prior to impact which probably spared the facility serious damage (as it was the damage will cost several million to repair). The investigation is ongoing however it has all but been concluded that a failure in one of the engine turbopumps was the cause of the failure. Orbital Science is pushing ahead their plans to replace the AJ-26 engines with a different series however Cygnus missions Orb-4 and Orb-5 will most likely be flown on competitor rockets until the change can take place.
Three days later, the not so publicized loss of Virgin Galactic's poorly named "Space Ship Two" and crewman Micheal Alsbury occurred on October 31st. Godspeed to the brave pilot and condolences to his family. Space Ship Two was conducting a live-engine flight-test (the fourth or fifth one conducted on that spaceframe) when it was seen to explode from the vantage point of the White Knight carrier plane. Initial assumptions of an engine malfunction have been decisively ruled out with the destruction of the spacecraft being blamed on aerodynamic stresses from an unplanned deployment of the spacecraft's wing-feathering system. The accident seems to have been a combination of pilot and software error although nothing conclusive has been reached by the ongoing investigation.
After that, we get to have some good news. ESA's Rosetta mission successful landing of Philae was widely covered and has been considered a resounding success even with the lander's unscheduled display of acrobatics (the details of which I used to calculate estimates of the mass of 67P to be about 4 billion tons and a surface gravity of just over 1/10th of a millimeter per second ^2). All of the lander's instruments remained intact and operational throughout the landing and subsequent investigation of the surface of the comet (itself both a miracle and a feat of engineering) which will give the researchers plenty to sift through for years to come. Philae shut itself off and went into a hibernation mode once it's batteries were expended (ESA mission controllers are hopeful that the lander will be able to slowly recharge itself over time) and in the mean time Rosetta will remain orbiting the comet and making additional observations until December 2015 when they may set the spacecraft down on the comet next to Philae.
I thought that was all... but I noticed today that the New Horizons spacecraft (launched in 2006) will be awakening itself from its own slumber in preparation for its flyby and investigation of Pluto, Charon, and two other moons. NASA will be sending the command to reactivate the spacecraft on December 6th and prepare the atomic-powered ship for its encounter mid July of 2015. Another milestone to mark your calenders for; our first close-range look at the controversial little planetoid that seems to have stirred up so much discord between researchers and nostalgic astronomers.
For all of you rocket-launch whores out there, New Horizons was launched in January 2006 on an Atlas IV (?) with a Centaur upper stage booster.
On a personal front, I finally got that damn cast off of my hand and it HURTS. Those joints haven't moved in three weeks and I am feeling it but the pain is subsiding as it gets some exercise again. The strength seems to be back though so the tenosynovitis seems to have cleared up somewhat so yay for that I guess. There is still some worrying swelling and deep joint pain though so I'll be back at the doctor next Monday for a followup. In the meantime I'm going to try to get some pages up again. I really hate being away from it, I really do.