"NASA's first science mission for solar sails is called HelioStorm,with a launch date in 2016," says Montgomery. Plans are for thecraft to use sunlight to hover in place like a helicopter and stayhalfway between the earth and the sun to study the sun's weathersystem, which affects communications on Earth. The current designcalls for the HelioStorm sail to be as long as a football field,twice as wide, and superthin. Forty of them piled on top of oneanother would only be as thick as a piece of paper. The supportingpoles would be made of the kind of lightweight composites used fortennis rackets and golf clubs.
One private group of space enthusiasts is not waiting forgovernment timetables for space sailing. In June 2005, thePlanetary Society, a worldwide advocacy group for spaceexploration, funded and built its own design for a solar sail andspacecraft, the Cosmos 1. But their first-ever solar sailspacecraft never had a chance to show off. A faulty rocket launchfrom a submarine interrupted the bold experiment. The society isalready working on raising funds for another attempt.
WITH THE ENTERPRISE of entrepreneurs, the passion of privatecitizens, financial prizes, and return-to-the-moon agendas, we arereaching back to a dream as old as the early stargazers - to gobeyond Earth. And we are reaching forward with new kinds ofrockets, elevators, sails, and imagination.
"Taking humans out of the solar system is all theory right now," says astronaut Eileen Collins, the first female commander of a space shuttle. "My dream is to find another planet like Earth in our galaxy and a relatively quick way to travel there and back. I don't think it's impossible."
"The single most important thing to come out of the Apollo program was the photograph of the earth from the moon. It fundamentally changed how we view ourselves," says Brant Sponberg, program manager for NASA's Centennial Challenge program. With all the new planets we are finding in other galaxies and the advancements in space travel, he anticipates, "We will someday have a photograph of another planet that looks like Earth. We will fundamentally change again."
Yep, Tang Is Still In Space
For most baby boomers, Tang was as close as you could get to life in outer space. While Gemini and Apollo astronauts sipped the beverage circling the planet and heading to the moon, kids on Earth could mix a little water with the orange powder and, voilà, a cosmic taste of space life was there for the swallowing.
General Foods' clever advertising made Tang almost synonymous with space, until publicly funded NASA stopped allowing commercial endorsements for space products. Today, astronauts add water to generic packets marked orange drink (but it's still Tang). And now, they even have newer Tang flavors marked pineapple, orange-mango, and peach-apricot.
Tang has been on every space shuttle mission, according to Karen Ross, manager of food and product support for United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor. "It was the very first drink flown in space that was a rehydratable, sugar-based, fruit-flavored beverage powder," she says. "That's important, so we can reduce the weight of water in the food at liftoff."
To ensure happy drinking while orbiting over the world, astronauts must choose their menus months before they launch. Tang is popular, Ross says, but “lemonade is selected the most. It’s very American.”