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“No matter what mission astronauts are sent to accomplish, the engineers who send them must solve two basic problems: how to get the space travelers off the Earth (and into orbit or on their way to the moon or Mars) and how to bring them back again. With decades of experience in shoving payloads into space, the world’s space powers have unanimously settled on chemical rockets as the best way to launch astronauts. The question engineers still debate is: What’s the best way to land them?
Boeing and SpaceX, which, through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, are scheduled to send astronauts to the International Space Station next year, have been asked to respond to spaceflight’s two basic problems with ingenuity, economy, and gee-whiz technology for the cosmic challenges ahead. Yet one of the most visible elements of their privately designed spacecraft will hearken back deep into last century: They’re shaped as capsules, counting on their blunt, high-drag shapes and a brace of parachutes to slow them from an orbital speed of 17,000 mph to a velocity that human occupants can survive when they hit the Earth’s surface.
The space shuttle was supposed to end all that when it took its first flight in 1981, providing airliner-like comfort during its gentle runway touchdown. And in creating the next generation of space transportation, SpaceX, at first, really did try to lean into the future. Elon Musk and his team pushed for a new kind of lander, one that relied on thruster rockets, instead of parachutes, to slow the ship and extendable legs to balance it upon touchdown—a so-called propulsive landing. “That is how a 21st-century spaceship should land,” Musk boasted in 2014, “anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter.” SpaceX has largely succeeded with propulsive landing for its payload delivery rockets—the Falcon 9 first stage regularly, and impressively, lands upright on an ocean barge or back at Cape Canaveral. But such leaps forward with live astronauts inside require time and money that NASA was unwilling to commit to a mission whose key selling point was economy. At least that’s what space watchers guess from Musk’s laconic abandonment of the approach in 2017. So the parachutes came out again.
NASA’s astronaut splashdowns have acquired a nostalgic if not mythic tinge at the distance of half a century. But they were hairy affairs in real life. Gus Grissom nearly drowned after the second Mercury flight in 1961—a famous incident made more famous by its inaccurate portrayal in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. The next year, Scott Carpenter landed 250 miles off course and spent three hours in a life raft before rescue by the USS Intrepid.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"Apple, Google, Starbucks, and companies like them all claim to be socially responsible, but the first element of social responsibility should be paying your fair share of tax."
"One problem with today’s polarized politics is that both parties don’t mind stretching constitutional limits to achieve their policy goals. Democrats cheered on Barack Obama’s legal abuses on immigration and so much more..."
"The Democratic Party has problems with Israel. But Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), the new members of Congress who have attracted attention with toxic tweets and support for boycott, are not the main protagonists."
"Chicago Police sources now suggest he staged what he says was a racist and homophobic attack on him. Smollett vigorously denies it. Whatever the truth, it's a moment to reflect."
"In talmudic tort law.. the responsible party must transfer to the plaintiff an area of his best land of equivalent value- rather than a larger area of low-quality land. From the standpoint of classical economics, such a requirement is nonsensical."
"“Alexa, can I use you on Shabbat?” The journalist spoke into a small glass-and-metal device he held in his hand, which connected him to a distant supercomputer in a place known only as “the Cloud.”"
"Racial capitalism is the process of getting some sort of social or economic benefit from someone else’s racial identity. In the United States, this usually, though not always, involves white people benefiting from nonwhite racial identity."
"A gay French writer has lifted the lid on what he calls one of the world’s largest gay communities, the Vatican, estimating that most of its prelates are homosexually inclined..."
"I’ll state the obvious and say that much if not all of the reason my life hasn’t changed is that I’m not a parent. Children are life’s great timekeepers, and when you don’t live with any, you’re at the mercy of your own internal clock..."
"...cooking without recipes is a kitchen skill same as cutting vegetables into dice. It’s a way to improve your confidence in the kitchen and to make the act of cooking fun when sometimes it seems like a chore."
"Psychedelics have frequently been maligned in both the scientific community and mainstream culture. But new medical research and a more capacious understanding of the drugs have started to shift opinions."
"The story of angels stretches all the way back to the opening sections of the Book of Genesis. There, God posts cherubs as sentries at the gates of the Garden of Eden, following Adam and Eve’s expulsion. "