With two veteran test pilots at the controls, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane climbed to the edge of space for the first time Thursday in a major achievement for Richard Branson’s long-sought ambition to begin regular commercial hops with space tourists, and the first piloted flight by a U.S. vehicle above an altitude of 50 miles since the last space shuttle mission in 2011.
Clad in pressurized spacesuits, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev used knives and scissors to slice through insulation and a debris shield on a Soyuz spaceship set to return to Earth next week, finally reaching the capsule’s metallic hull to examine the site of an air leak plugged in August.
A commercial supply ship owned and operated by SpaceX arrived at the International Space Station on Saturday, delivering a pair of NASA experiments to demonstrate satellite refueling techniques and monitor changes in Earth’s forests, along with a special holiday menu of turkey, candied yams, cranberry sauce and shortbread cookies.
United Launch Alliance called off the planned liftoff of a Delta 4-Heavy rocket and a classified National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Wednesday after indications of elevated hydrogen concentrations around one of the launcher’s main engines. Three previous launch attempts were scrubbed by technical concerns and bad weather.