See what NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover sees in absolutely stunning 4K – CNET

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Since landing on Feb. 18, the NASA Perseverance rover has had a chance to look around and scope out the surrounding landscape, which shows off some pretty typical Mars sights of dust, dirt and rocks.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover landed in Jezero Crater on the red planet less than two weeks ago, but the advanced robot has already sent back some of the most memorable motion pictures in history.

Cameras on the rover and the descent module that carried it through the Martian atmosphere documented the last few minutes of the long journey from Earth in a remarkable and spectacular way. With the dramatic landing out of the way, the far more chill but no less intriguing task of exploring the surface begins.

UK filmmaker Sean Doran has taken some of the first images taken by Perseverance from within Jezero Crater and processed them to create This is Mars, a short film that's one of the most captivating 30-minute panning shots you'll ever see.

Doran took a series of photos from Perseverance's mast-mounted camera system (Mastcam-Z) taken on the rover's fifth Martian day on the planet, polished them up, stitched them together and set them to music. The results are, well, otherworldly.

The extended panorama is meditative to watch and reminiscent of certain volcanic or desert landscapes on the Earth. It's easy to see why Mars analogs are located in places like Utah and Hawaii.

The raw image data is publicly available via NASA's feed and Perseverance has already sent back thousands of images. Doran writes on YouTube that the images were "denoised, repaired, graded and upscaled for this film."

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The crisp visuals also bring into sharper resolution just how treacherous Perseverance's landing in Jezero Crater was. The rover's immediate surroundings appear to be littered with large boulders and at least one quite sheer-looking cliff.

It will be exciting to watch for sequels to this film when Perseverance starts to actually roll around and explore farther afield.

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SpaceX Starlink launch delayed, next window opens Thursday: How to watch – CNET

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A Falcon 9 loaded with Starlink satellites prepares for launch.

SpaceX

SpaceX is busy sending satellites to space to keep up with the rollout of its Starlink global broadband network.

I received an email notification that the beta version of the high-speed internet service is now available in my area, which is significantly further south than the initial beta offering in Canada and the northern US. (I'm at latitude 36 degrees in the Northern Hemisphere. Vancouver is at 49 degrees.)

It's a sign that the expansion of Starlink is on track, but Elon Musk's company needs to keep blasting more flying routers into orbit to keep growing and to meet the requirements of its license to operate from the US Federal Communications Commission.

SpaceX should soon launch its next batch of Starlink broadband satellites from Cape Canaveral in Florida. That would be its fifth Starlink mission of 2021 so far.

This particular set of Starlink devices has been delayed from launching at least 10 times due to different technical and weather-related issues. That sounds like a lot, but delays are the name of the game with space launches, and it's far more unusual for a mission to never be postponed at all.

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This next launch comes after the last Starlink mission ended with a lost booster that missed its landing on a company droneship and splashed down in the nearby ocean instead. The booster that is set for this mission will be making a record-tying eighth launch and landing. Even before the loss of the other Falcon 9 on Feb. 16, SpaceX opted to do another round of due diligence for this mission.

Liftoff, which most recently had been scheduled for Sunday, Monday and then Tuesday, now is set for the early morning hours of Thursday from Kennedy Space Center, followed by the booster landing on a droneship, as well as the attempted recovery of both halves of the fairing.

We will cover the livestream of the launch right here. It's set to begin about 10 minutes before launch.

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NASA Perseverance rover sends back first sounds from Mars: Hear them here – CNET

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

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NASA's Perseverance rover traveled to Mars equipped with microphones to capture its descent and landing, and the environment of the Martian surface. While the system didn't manage to capture audio to go along with the stunning video of the descent and landing, one of the microphones on Perseverance has sent back sounds from the surface of the red planet.

The brief audio sample, which can be heard in the embedded video clip above, features the whirring sounds of the rover operating, punctuated by a brief gust of wind.

It's faint and short, but chilling nonetheless to get a whole new type of sensory data from our neighboring planet for the first time in human history.

Mission team members told reporters Monday they look forward to using Perseverance's microphones to hear more wind, storms, perhaps falling rocks and the sound of the rover's wheels crunching over rocks or its drill cracking the Martian surface.

In addition, sound could become a new tool to listening for the sounds of the rover itself to analyze how well its components are working and potentially diagnose any problems.

Members of the Perseverance team also warn that the microphones may not last forever due to the extreme conditions on Mars, including frigid temperatures, dust and radiation.

However long they last we'll look forward to what happens next in our first interplanetary audio drama.

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Life from Earth could survive on Mars, at least for a while – CNET

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Marsbox payload in the Earth's middle stratosphere. The shutter is open exposing the top layer samples to UV radiation.

NASA
This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Scientists say some microbes from Earth could survive on Mars, at least temporarily, raising new problems and possibilities for future exploration of the red planet.

Researchers from NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) sent certain microbes into Earth's stratosphere, where conditions are strikingly similar to those at the surface of Mars.

"Some microbes, in particular spores from the black mold fungus, were able to survive the trip, even when exposed to very high (ultraviolet) radiation," DLR's Marta Filipa Cortesão explained in a statement.

Cortesão is one of the lead authors of a new study published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

It seems we really may never be able to get rid of that pesky black mold. It could even follow humans to another planet, which is what concerns the researchers.

"With crewed long-term missions to Mars, we need to know how human-associated microorganisms would survive on the red planet, as some may pose a health risk to astronauts," says study co-author Katharina Siems from DLR. "In addition, some microbes could be invaluable for space exploration. They could help us produce food and material supplies independently from Earth, which will be crucial when far away from home."

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Quartz disc with dried Aspergillus niger spores. This is some tough mold.

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

It's also important to know what might be able to survive an interplanetary trip as we search for life on Mars, to avoid a false positive discovery of Martian mold that was really a stowaway on one of our spacecraft.

For the study, the team sent the microbes to the stratosphere inside a specially designed container called Marsbox (Microbes in Atmosphere for Radiation, Survival and Biological Outcomes experiment) that simulated the pressure and makeup of the Martian atmosphere. The box contained a layer shielded from radiation, and one that was unshielded.

"This allowed us to separate the effects of radiation from the other tested conditions: desiccation, atmosphere, and temperature fluctuation during the flight," Cortesão explains. "The top layer samples were exposed to more than a thousand times more UV radiation than levels that can cause sunburn on our skin."

In the end, the study suggests that of the many challenges involved in exploring Mars, we need to add at least one more familiar problem: that stubborn mold you can never seem to get rid of.

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New SpaceX Starship prototype SN10 rocket could fly Wednesday – CNET

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SN10 and its predecessor SN9 on the launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas, in early February.

SpaceX

The prototype tests are coming extremely quickly for SpaceX's Starship program. Only weeks after its predecessor SN9 flew high and then crash-landed on Texas' Gulf Coast, SN10 will attempt to improve on that performance, and it could happen as soon as Wednesday. If you want to follow the high-altitude flight test live, we'll have a link right here, shortly before SpaceX's livestream begins. 

SN10 and SN9 are the latest iterations of SpaceX and Elon Musk's Starship prototypes that the company has been developing in full view at its facility in Boca Chica, Texas (or Starbase, as it might be known soon). Musk has promised that the next-generation rocket will be capable of revolutionary point-to-point travel around the globe, as well as sending civilians to the moon, Mars and beyond.

Over the past few years, Starship prototypes have progressed from making short, low-altitude "hops" to high-altitude flight demonstrations. The past two serial numbers, SN8 and SN9, have both flown to altitudes comparable to where commercial jets cruise, but then came in for explosive hard landings.

Musk had warned in advance of the tests that he expected such "rapid unscheduled disassembly" events to be part of the development process.

SpaceX SN8 flew high and landed hard.

SpaceX CNET video capture by Jackson Ryan

Following the flight and crash landing of SN8 in December, the follow-up flight of SN9 suffered a series of delays throughout January. It was revealed that SN8 had been launched without all required approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration, and a kind of staring contest developed as the FAA then took its time to grant the launch license for SN9.

In the end, the FAA was satisfied with the safety precautions for the test flight and SN9 finally flew on Feb. 2. After its fiery return to Earth that afternoon, the FAA announced it would be investigating the landing "mishap."

On Feb. 19, an FAA spokesperson said via email that the agency has closed the investigation into the landing mishap, "clearing the way for the SN10 test flight pending FAA approval of license updates."

"The SN9 vehicle failed within the bounds of the FAA safety analysis. Its unsuccessful landing and explosion did not endanger the public or property. All debris was contained within the designated hazard area. The FAA approved the final mishap report, including the probable causes and corrective actions."

As of Feb. 22, The Washington Post's Christian Davenport was reporting that the FAA launch license has been granted, paving the way for SN10 to launch following a static test fire.

That test happened Tuesday, and SpaceX wasn't quite satisfied with the results. One of SN10's Raptor engines was swapped out and another test fire was completed Thursday. A launch Friday was ruled out, and over the weekend SpaceX also opted not to try on Monday with Wednesday now the earliest we expect to see a blast-off from Boca Chica.

Check back here for updates and a livestream once SN10 is ready to fly.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover landing: Why going to Mars should matter to you – CNET

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This artist's illustration shows a "sky crane" gently lowering Perseverance to the surface of Mars.

NASA

NASA successfully landed its most advanced rover ever on the surface of another planet this week. The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is the fifth such rolling robot the space agency has sent to the red planet, and when the mission is over, it will have cost nearly $3 billion.

With a pandemic bringing everyday existence on the surface of our own planet to arguably its lowest point since humans entered the space age several decades ago, it's fair to wonder why we're devoting any resources to sending our best tech to explore a cold, dead desert planet bathed in radiation.

There are actually a number of arguments that range from the philosophical to more practical. Here are three for those who can't fathom how sending a nerdy dune buggy carrying a tiny helicopter on a 100-million-mile road trip is justifiable.

The fragility of our planet

There's some evidence suggesting our two nearest planetary neighbors, Mars and Venus, were once habitable. Today, they're both deadly places, though the dangers of Mars are at least theoretically manageable through technology and perhaps some ambitious terraforming.

Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater, which is thought to have once been the site of a large river delta flowing into a crater lake. Conditions may have been right for life, which the rover hopes to find evidence of.

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This Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image shows the Jezero Crater delta region. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

But something happened. Mars lost much of its atmosphere and it dried up and became the colder, inhospitable world we know today.

Somewhere in this past there might be some lessons and cautionary tales for earthlings. If our two closest neighbors were transformed from more friendly climes to the relative hellscapes they are today, we should want to know more about what happened. It's certainly worth more than one visit.

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A visible green line reflected by oxygen molecules is seen at the edge of Earth's atmosphere.

NASA

We imagine Earth as a big floating ball teeming with life, but the reality is more tenuous. When viewed from orbit, a greenish line of glowing oxygen marking the edge of our atmosphere is visible above our planet. This glowing line reveals the true fragility of our planet's habitable zone, which is not the entire planet, but rather a small bubble on its surface extending from roughly sea level to a few miles in altitude, and not really including the polar regions, either.

When seen this way, it almost feels as though that bubble could easily pop. It happened on Mars, so maybe it could happen here.

Doing the hard things because they are hard

I'm paraphrasing John F. Kennedy -- doing the hard things because they are hard -- speaking about the Apollo project to put humans on the moon. It's not an entirely honest justification for spending the big chunk of the US budget that was dropped on NASA to get us there, however.

The dawn of the space age, the Apollo program and the breathtaking speed with which we went from fully earthbound to hitting golf balls on the moon was motivated in no small part by military and geopolitical concerns.

It's easy to look back and think that we wasted a significant chunk of our gross domestic product on a Cold War space race that was more about ego and national pride than science and exploration. It's a fair criticism. But whatever the motivation, the results were more than just bragging rights and a flag in the Sea of Tranquility. 

By going to space, we have revolutionized life on Earth.

The ways this is true are too numerous to list, so think of just one: What began with the terrifying (to Americans) successful launch of the Soviet bucket of bolts named Sputnik eventually created our modern lifestyle that depends on thousands of successor satellites beaming all our information, images, transactions and communications around the world at light speed.

What started as technological muscle flexing between global powers has changed countless aspects of the daily life of billions of humans.

Exploring Mars involves overcoming countless challenges through engineering and innovation, not to mention Perseverance and Ingenuity. What we learn from the successes and failures of meeting those challenges may spark the next revolution that will make life in 2071 beyond anything we can imagine right now.

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Elon Musk's goal is to establish a city on Mars.

SpaceX

Elon Musk has a vision

You've already heard this one. Elon Musk, one of the richest dudes in history, wants to build a city on Mars and make humans a "multiplanetary" species or something like that. Part of this argument is that Earth is not nearly as safe and secure as it seems. Massive solar flares, impact by a comet, nuclear annihilation, environmental collapse and perhaps catastrophes we haven't even thought of are all very much possibilities, so it makes sense to have a backup plan.

That's the pessimistic version of this case that's easiest to argue. But we rarely hear the other side of this vision argued, which is more in line with the Star Trek ethic: "To boldly go..."

These days it can be hard to even talk about setting up shop on Mars because the words I might use to describe such an activity have become justifiably taboo -- words like colonize, settle and occupy. It's true that the history of human expansion is littered with horrors, and Musk using the fear of an uncertain future to sell a new kind of colonialism does give me pause.

But I don't think that's the right way to look at it, and it's not how the people behind Perseverance think about it. The mission's goals are strictly about scientific discovery and technological demonstration. So much so that some of the wonder of what's actually being accomplished can get lost.

Think about how you, as an individual, have grown as a person each time you visit a new place or experience something new. Your first day of school, first time outside your town or state, first plane ride, first time abroad, etc. 

I remember one particular jet-lagged morning in my twenties in a dirt cheap hostel in Thailand waking up before dawn and walking around a little neighborhood in Bangkok. Around every corner was something unfamiliar: words I couldn't understand, things being sold as food I never thought of as edible, people doing activities I couldn't identify as exercise or prayer or something in between.

It became clear that morning that I knew very, very little about the wider world. When I finally die or get uploaded to the cloud, I will hopefully be a bit less ignorant, but the same basic statement will certainly still be true.

Going to Mars and beyond could be the same sort of eye-opening experience for humanity as a species. Becoming multiplanetary doesn't have to be about having a backup plan, it could be about evolving and becoming better, wiser and a little less ignorant about the universe and our place in it.

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Perseverance rover will arrive at Mars with a bang: How NASA will listen – CNET

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An illustration of Perseverance during its descent to the Martian surface.

NASA

When NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover lands on the surface of the red planet Thursday, it will carry a microphone that will, hopefully, manage to capture the sounds of its descent and touchdown. But that won't be the only device listening for the rover's arrival.

The Mars Insight lander is located less than 2,000 miles (about 3,000 kilometers) away from Jezero Crater, where Perseverance is set to land. Unlike the more charismatic rovers that are designed to roll around and explore the Martian landscape, one of Insight's primary jobs is simply to sit in one spot and listen for marsquakes and other seismic activity.

Insight has already succeeded in detecting marsquakes. But as the lone seismic detection station on the planet, its science team has had trouble pinpointing the location and magnitude of the quakes. This is easier to do on Earth, where there is a whole network of seismic sensors making it easier to calibrate and calculate the particulars of a certain tremor.

Now scientists are hoping to use the landing of Perseverance to get a better picture of the interior structure of Mars and how seismic waves propagate through it. The hope is that Insight will be able to pick up different phases of the landing with its sensors. In essence, this will be the first time that Insight will "hear" a "quake" and also know exactly where it's coming from. This critical data will allow researchers to hone their models of the Martian interior and calibrate Insight's seismic detection powers.

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"Luckily, the entry, descent and landing of the Perseverance rover is so energetic that it produces signals that are detectable by seismometers," writes Ben Fernando, a member of the Insight science team, for The Conversation

The actual touch down of Perseverance is meant to be a soft landing that shouldn't be detectable over a long distance, but the more energetic parts of the process Fernando refers to include the sonic boom from the spacecraft as it decelerates during descent, and the impact of two large weights called Cruise Mass Balance Devices, aka CMBDs.

Fernando and colleagues calculated the signals that might be produced from the sonic boom and found them unlikely to be detectable by Insight. However, the 154-pound (70-kilogram) CMBDs will be jettisoned over 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) above the surface of Mars, and should produce small craters when they impact the planet at high speed.

"This will transmit a huge amount of energy into the ground, which will produce seismic waves," Fernando explains. "We estimated that these signals will be 'loud' enough to be detected by InSight's seismometers about 40% of the time in the best-case scenario. The uncertainties of our estimates are significant, mainly because no one has ever tried to detect an impact event at these distances before."

Regardless of how well it works, even attempting to detect a spacecraft landing on Mars with another distant probe will be a first.

Be sure to keep up with all our coverage of Perseverance's arrival at Mars, which is set for 12:55 p.m. PT Thursday.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 missed its landing last month because of a hole in a boot – CNET

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A Falcon 9 loaded with Starlink satellites prepares for launch.

SpaceX

After successfully sending another batch of its Starlink broadband satellites into orbit Feb. 15 from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, SpaceX missed the landing of its Falcon 9 first-stage booster for the first time in a year.

SpaceX's Benji Reed said Monday in a NASA press conference that a hole in an engine boot directed hot gas "where it wasn't supposed to be," triggering an automatic shutdown and leaving the booster without enough thrust to hit its landing on a droneship.

On the livestream of the mission, a flash can be seen just to the side of the droneship at the moment the booster should be landing, though no rocket ever enters the frame.

Reed said the unintentional splash-landing was caused by a holey boot that had been used on several other flights and its fate provides valuable data on the lifespan of similar components.

The landing miss appears to have spared three seagulls that were hanging out on the landing pad and may never understand how close they came to being barbecued.

The Falcon 9 itself had a decent life, completing six launches successfully, but only five landings in its career.

The apparent hard water landing comes almost exactly a year after the same thing happened at the end of an earlier Starlink mission on Feb. 17, 2020. Every landing attempt in between has been successful -- for Falcon 9, that is. (Definitely not counting Starship testing in Texas.)

These launches and the droneship landings that follow them are becoming pretty routine for SpaceX, despite last month's mishap, but Musk would like to see the pace of launches increase. The permit from the FCC for Starlink to operate requires that at least 2,212 of its satellites be operational by March of next year.

The only sign something went wrong? A bright glow and some startled gulls.

SpaceX

So far, over 1,000 of the small satellites have been sent to space, but it's not clear how many of those are currently operational. Regardless, it would seem that if SpaceX can pull off at least two Starlink launches per month, it should be able to hit its target.

Four Starlink missions have now been flown thus far in 2021. The next launch is now set for Tuesday evening.

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Harvard scientists have a new take on what wiped out the dinosaurs – CNET

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Artist's illustration of a comet bound for Earth.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Harvard's most controversial astronomer has a new theory about the space rock that took out the dinosaurs. There's reason to believe it came from farther afield than previously assumed, he says. 

Avi Loeb has been making waves for a few years now by arguing that first ever interstellar object Oumuamua could be a wayward piece of alien technology from far beyond our solar system. But his latest paper has nothing to do with that.

Loeb and Harvard University astrophysics undergraduate student Amir Siraj suggest in a new study published Monday in Scientific Reports that the Chicxulub Impactor, which ended the rule of the thunder lizards, originated from the edge of our own solar system.

A popular theory about the demise of the dinos says the impactor likely originated from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but Loeb and Siraj use statistical analysis and gravitational simulations to calculate that more Earth impactors actually originated from the far-off Oort cloud where most long-period comets hail from.

The pair's calculations suggest some such comets can get knocked off track on their journey toward the inner solar system, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

"The solar system acts as a kind of pinball machine," Siraj explained in a statement. "Jupiter, the most massive planet, kicks incoming long-period comets into orbits that bring them very close to the sun."

So-called sungrazer comets can then be torn apart by the pull of the sun's gravity.

"And crucially, on the journey back to the Oort cloud, there's an enhanced probability that one of these fragments hit the Earth," Siraj said. 

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The research finds that the odds of such an impact are significantly higher than previously thought and that the new rate of impact lines up with the age of the Chicxulub impact crater in the Gulf of Mexico. A comet fragment from the Oort cloud also matches up with the unusual makeup of the impactor better than an asteroid from closer to home.

Even more important than solving the mystery of what killed off the dinosaurs, Loeb says a deeper understanding of natural traffic from deep space could also be important if a potential impactor should threaten our planet in the future.

"It must have been an amazing sight," he said, "but we don't want to see that again."  

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Virgin Galactic will keep its spaceplane for tourists on the ground for now – CNET

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VMS Eve and SpaceShipTwo Unity

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's nascent space tourism company, plans to make its latest run at the edge of our atmosphere from New Mexico's Spaceport America soon, but not this weekend.

The company tentatively planned to attempt a test flight of its spacecraft as soon as Saturday, Feb. 13, but on Friday the company announced it had "decided to allow more time for technical checks."

Virgin is working to complete a few more test flights before Branson takes his own long-awaited suborbital joyride, followed by customers who are paying somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars to become astronauts for a day.

The company attempted a test flight in December, but a computer on board the spacecraft SpaceShipTwo Unity aborted ignition of the rocket motor. The Virgin Galactic team now says it's corrected the problem and tested it on the ground. The next step is to try again.

It's not clear when we could see Unity and the Virgin carrier aircraft VMS Eve take off from the high desert north of Las Cruces. Previously Virgin Galactic said it has flight opportunities throughout February if weather or technical issues don't cooperate.

"The flight will incorporate all of the original test objectives from the previous test flight, including evaluating elements of the customer cabin, testing the livestream capability from the spaceship to the ground, and assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during the boost phase of the flight," Virgin Galactic said in a statement.  

Branson and his company have been working toward sending paying customers to space for over 15 years now. Progress has been delayed during that time by issues including a fatal accident and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, but the finish line for Virgin Galactic has been in view for the past few years. The company has unveiled the look of its flight suits, cabin interior and even the cafe where astronauts and their families will hang out prior to leaving Spaceport America.

As soon as later this month, Branson and Virgin could be just one more flight away from finally realizing a dream years in the making.

Correction, Feb. 11: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the capabilities of Virgin Galactic's space plane. It's technically capable of only suborbital flights.

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