By James H. Burns: Many years ago, I can remember the idea being floated that there was a secret manned space program…
And, at first, as a kid, while I relived my anger over the Apollo program — and most of its subsequent progressions — being cancelled: I was hopeful! Better a secret manned space program, I believe I felt, than the near-total abandonment of what should have been our 1970s and ’80s and beyond destiny in space.
…All of which I’ve been reminded of, by this week’s return from space of our clandestine cavalier, our military shuttle….
A top secret US robot space plane landed back on Earth on Friday after a 22-month orbit, officials said, although the craft’s mission remains shrouded in mystery.
The unmanned X-37B, which looks like a miniature space shuttle, glided into the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California after having launched on December 11, 2012, on a mission that military officers say is still strictly secret.
Remember how the Pentagon astonished everyone by presenting NASA with two Hubble-like orbital telescopes that they built secretly, warehoused for several years, and finally decided they never needed? It’s easy to imagine a near-future, after a general set-back in civilization, in which a diminished population has gone back to the plow, but in which the state also maintains a space force in secret. Only the tip of the iceberg, at that…
There was a continuing plotline on The West Wing in which a White House staffer leaked info about a military shuttle program so as to force it’s use to rescue NASA astronauts because one of the astronauts in need of rescue was his brother.
I checked the story you referenced, and a few others just to be sure there wasn’t a typo. The mission is described as “a 22-month orbit” which would seem to imply that the ship was launched into a solar orbit that intersected with earth after about two years. As opposed to being in low earth orbit for the better part of two years.
Isn’t the elephant in the room here the point you rapidly elided over: “secret manned space program” vs “The unmanned X-37B”.
Those who insist on the stupid way of doing things (in particular the absolutely essential nature of MANNED spacecraft) are destined to be overtaken by those who are rather more realistic on the issue. NASA could have a whole damn fleet of X-37Bs constantly taking off and landing if it hadn’t had to wrap a human protection cocoon around every one of them — AND then suffer the consequences when that cocoon wasn’t good enough.
Robotic spacecraft are trail-blazers for the humans who will follow: Ranger, Surveyor, and the cancelled Prospector were the advance guard for Apollo; all the different Mars rovers are the same thing for the day when we again have enough spirit To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before.
Given that, it’s true that unmanned cargo carriers to Earth orbit are less expensive, can carry more payload, and won’t kill humans if there is a launch or re-entry emergency