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A New Era of Exploration

The successful launch of Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft heats up the commercial space race.

Published September 22, 2013

A New Era of Exploration

"If we needed more tangible proof that this is a new era of [space] exploration, it's right here, right now," said Robert Lightfoot, NASA Associate Administrator, at a briefing following the successful launch of Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

"With this launch, the private space race is now heating up as we now have competition for cargo transports to the International Space Station," writes Alex Knapp (@TheAlexKnapp) in Forbes. "In the coming months, expect the competition to heat up more as SpaceX sends its third cargo launch to the ISS and plans its first manned launch to the Space Station, Orbital Sciences prepares for its second trip to the ISS, and Sierra Nevada Corporation prepares to finish its milestones for its Dream Chaser spacecraft."

NASA has been working with commercial space science partners since 2006 to nurture a US-based private space transportation industry. Through the Commercial Crew Program and Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, NASA aims to decrease American reliance on Russian spacecraft since the retirement of the US space shuttle and to free up resources to tackle grand(er) challenges, such as the (politicaly controversial) asteroid initiative.

Cygnus was scheduled to rendezvous with the International Space Station today, carrying 1,300 pounds of supplies. However, the docking attempt has been delayed 48 hours due to a glitch. NASA reports,

"This morning, at around 1:30 a.m. EDT, Cygnus established direct data contact with the ISS and found that some of the data received had values that it did not expect, causing Cygnus to reject the data," noted Orbital. "This mandated an interruption of the approach sequence. Orbital has subsequently found the causes of this discrepancy and is developing a software fix."

Relatedly, NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck is at the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science this weekend to discuss how Makers can contribute to the future of space science and the asteroid initiative. "NASA will offer makers a chance to program science hardware and learn how small, do-it-yourself projects might be used to help track and understand asteroids, using their own personal computers." said Peck.

Astronaut Dr. Charlie Camarda discusses the future of spaces exporation, the asteroid initiative, and the value of involving as broad a spectrum of people and ideas as possible in space science in this Q&A. "With a more diverse group of minds inspired to think and dream about space, we'll start to see really great stuff happen," he says.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles on are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the New York Academy of Sciences.