Saturday, April 22, 2006

Science Saturday IV: NASA Goes Mum

NASA is being hush hush about the failure of two spacecraft to rendezvous in what would have been the first such maneuver without human involvement.

The agency plans to release a summary of why the DART spacecraft did not complete its mission last year, but the full 70-page document contains details protected by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, a NASA spokesman said. Hmm.

Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in April 2005, the 800-pound Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology spacecraft successfully located the Pentagon satellite it was to rendezvous with and flew within 300 feet of it. The project ended prematurely, however, when the spacecraft shut down halfway into the 24-hour mission and failed to complete several automated tasks, including circling the satellite and making close approaches.

The $110 million project was meant to test whether robots can perform some of the tasks astronauts currently must do. Such advancements could lead to the robotic delivery of cargo to space stations and automated docking and repair between spacecraft.

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