10. Charles Simonyi
On April 7, Charles Simonyi became the fifth space tourist. After training at Star City, the Microsoft executive launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-10, arrived at the ISS on April 9, and returned to earth on the Soyuz TMA-9 on April 21.
9. Scotty goes to space
The beloved actor James Doohan died in 2005. On April 28, 2007, a vial of his ashes, along with those of astronaut Gordon Cooper and about 200 others, was lofted into space on a suborbital flight aboard the UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL. Mr. Scott's engines finally did have enough power, cap'n - and he didna do it on any United Federation of Planets spacecraft either, he went on a private spacecraft. With the expansion of the private space industry of late, pretty soon we're all going to be able to go, and not just our ashes.
8. Opportunity enters Victoria Crater
The Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity far exceeded their mission specifications years ago, and are still chuggin' away. On September 11, 2007, the rover Opportunity took its first tentative steps into Victoria Crater. Analysis of the layers of rock in the crater walls will provide a boon for planetary geologists, allowing them to peer further back into the history of Mars than ever before.
7. New Horizons reaches Jupiter
The New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to Pluto. Launched in January of 2006, it is the fastest object ever launched. But, it needed to go even faster than it could be launched. So, at the end of February of 2007, New Horizons used the gravity of Jupiter to provide it an additional boost. As the spacecraft approached the giant planet, it took some spectacular photos of the planet and its moons, including this amazing shot of the Galilean moons Europa and Io. Even though these moons look like they are side by side, they were actually separated by a distance of 790 thousand kilometers, roughly twice the distance between Earth and the Moon.
I posted some videos about New Horizons on my blog here.
6. Bigelow Aerospace launches its second private space station
Bigelow Aerospace launched its second space station into orbit on June 28, 2007. With that launch, Bigelow had done something that no government space program had ever done before, having two space stations in orbit at the same time. Granted, these stations are small and unmanned, however Genesis I and Genesis II are both still holding atmospheres inside without human intervention. Bigelow has decided not to launch the larger Galaxy stations due to rising launch costs. Instead they will test those stations on the ground, and then proceed with the even larger, human-habitable Sundancer space stations. By the way, Bigelow is hiring in 27 job categories. Space geeks, polish up your resumes!
5. the Wrong Stuff
Quick! Name even one of the astronauts who launched aboard space shuttle Discovery in November of this year. Unless you're related to or a close friend of an astronaut, or are working for NASA, chances are that you don't know a single name. It's quite a change from the "Right Stuff" days of the 60's, when every schoolkid knew the names of the astronauts. If you know that name of one astronaut who made the news in 2007, it's probably Lisa Nowak. In one ill-conceived cross-coutry road trip, Lisa Nowak blew the image of astronauts as swaggering Top Gun test pilots with nerves of steel, and showed that astronauts are just normal people with faults like the rest of us.
4. Gliese 581C
One of the most exciting stories of the past year has to be the discovery of Gliese 581C only 20.5 light years away. This is the smallest extrasolar planet found so far, only about 1.5 times the mass of the Earth. What makes Gliese 581C so interesting is that it is orbiting in the "Goldilocks zone" around its star, the red dwarf Gliese 581; it is close enough to the star for water to be liquid, but not so close that water would boil. Whenever we finally start travelling to other star systems, Gliese 581 would have to be at the very top of the list, if only to have a look at Gliese 581C.
3. Year of the Comets
2007 was a pretty good year for comets. In January, Comet McNaught put on a darn good show, mainly for those in the Southern hemisphere; McNaught was the brightest comet in over 30 years. Vidar Martinsen made this video (and composed the music too) of the comet from Norway:
Then on October 23-24, Comet 17P/Holmes outdid McNaught, brightening by a factor of over a half a million in the space of 42 hours. By November 9, the coma of the comet was so large that Holmes was briefly the largest object in the solar system, just slightly bigger than the sun itself.
2. Explosion at Scaled kills three
There is always an element of danger any time you are working with lots of energy being expended in a very short period of time. Rockets move via what amounts to a controlled explosion. This point was driven home on June 26, 2007 when a nitrous oxide flash explosion killed Glen May, Eric Blackwell, and Todd Ivens at Scaled Composites' test stand in Mojave, California. Those of us in the space business know how dangerous it is, and we do it anyway - and we're going to keep on doing it until, in the words of Dr. David Livingston, space becomes "like any other place we choose to visit, work in, or call our home. It should be just another destination, like Tahiti, Hawaii, or any place available to us right now on Earth".
1. Google Lunar X-Prize
On September 13, 2007, Google and the X-Prize foundation announced the $30 million Google Lunar X-Prize. The $20 million first prize will be awarded to the first private entity to launch a rover to the moon which travels at least 500 meters and returns video, images and data to the earth; the other ten million is in subsidiary prizes such as $5 million for second place, discovering water, imaging Apollo landing sites, and so on. Just as the Ansari X-Prize boosted research into suborbital flight and spawned several viable suborbital space companies, the Google Lunar X-Prize will further accelerate the private space industry. One company, Odyssey Moon, has already officially entered, and hundreds of other private companies and individuals (including me) have also expressed interest in the prize.
So, those are my choices for the top ten space stories for 2007. Happy New Year, and see you in 2008.