With very little notice for sea vessels off the coast of Florida, the Air Force space plane dubbed the X-37B landed today, ending the fourth flight using the two space planes but it is the first time the orbital vehicles landed at the historic Shuttle Landing Facility. The last time an orbital vehicle landed at the facility was when the final space shuttle landed, STS-135, back on July 21, 2011 when Atlantis touched down in the early morning hours. Since that date, there have been no American human spaceflight launches on American soil. NASA pays Russia over 70 million dollars per seat on their Soyuz capsules. That should change next year when SpaceX and Boeing will launch astronauts to the International Space Station on commercial rockets from Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A (Falcon 9) and Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Atlas V) respectively. Test flights for SpaceX is scheduled for November 11, 2017 and Boeing will have their test flight sometime next year.
The X-37B is about the size of a pickup truck, being 29 feet long with a wing span of 15 feet. Unlike NASA’s space shuttle, there are no hydraulics on the vehicle and it is powered using a solar array that is deployed from the payload bay of the plane.
The X-37B spent a total of 718 days in orbit and it’s mission has been classified. Throughout the mission, amateurs have been keeping an eye on the space plane and any changes in it’s orbit were recorded. Here’s a look at the flights of these two vehicles.
Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 1 (1st flight of Vehicle 1)
- April 22, 2010 – December 3, 2010 (Duration: 224 days)
Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 2 (1st flight of Vehicle 2)
- March 5, 2011 – June 16, 2012 (Duration: 469 days)
Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 3 (2nd flight of Vehicle 1)
- December 11, 2012 – October 17, 2014 (Duration: 675 days)
Orbital Test Vehicle Mission 4 (unknown which vehicle)
- May 20, 2015 – May 7, 2017 (Duration: 718 days)
The Air Force says that a fifth X-37B mission is planned to launch later this year.
An experiment that was launched to the International Space Station on April 18th that is worth mentioning that could have important impacts to the treatment of cancer and chemotherapy. The experiment is called Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing. According to NASASpaceflight.com, the experiment will use magnesium to allow astronauts to manipulate cell cultures and samples in cell growth experiments. The Antibody Drug Conjugates (ACDs) in Microgravity experiment will test new chemotherapy drugs in space. What is hoping is that a more efficient way to treating cancer cells by having the chemotherapy target only the cancer cells and destroying it. The hope is that the treatment will be less harmful to the patient.
In my opinion, this is a very important experiment and those who have cancer or are in medical school should follow this experiment very closely because this potential breakthrough could have huge spinoffs in other cancer fighting medications with hopefully less harmful and fewer side-effects.