REALSPACE: The X-37B Returns From Space

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The United States Air Force's new reusable robotic spacecraft returned from space Friday. Launched back in late April, this marks the conclusion of a 270-day semi-classified mission. ("Semi-Classified" in that we knew roughly where it was, but not what it was doing.)

The X-37 is a reusable aircraft-like design, similar to the Space Shuttle or the Buran, but about a fifth the size, and unmanned. Its mission is classified, but whatever it is appears to have gone off without a hitch. This is impressive, actually: Space is an unbelievably hostile environment, even for satellites. To have something the size of a large car up there for seven months, surviving massive temperature shifts, and the outgasing of volitiles is no mean engineering feat. And they're going for seconds: The spacecraft is tentatively scheduled for a second mission in the spring.

Congratulations to the USAF for a job well done! Keep up the good work, and never let Democratic space-phobia get you down.

BBC Story about the return: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11911335

Wikipedia Page about the spacecraft itself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-37B

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