A prototype of a spacecraft planned as a 'lifeboat' for crews on the International Space Station passed a major milestone. The wingless X-38, the first new U.S. spacecraft developed in more than 20 years, successfully made its maiden unpiloted flight test. The nine-minute flight of the atmospheric test vehicle took place at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California. The vehicle dove from the wing of a B-52 bomber at 23,000 ft. A series of parachutes slowed its descent. Then a 5,500-sq-ft parafoil--a steerable parachute--billowed out. The X-38 floated to a touchdown on its skids. The craft is the first of several increasingly detailed X-38s being built to test technology for a six-person "crew return vehicle." The X-38 has no engines. It uses the aerodynamic shape of the vehicle to provide the lift that airplanes get from their wings. In 2000, a space shuttle will carry a larger version of the X-38 into orbit. From there it is to plunge back to Earth for a practice landing.
One way to keep a Formula One racing team moving at breakneck speed in the pit and at the test facility is to bring CAD drawings of the racing vehicleís parts down to the test facility and even out to the track.
Most of us would just as soon step on a cockroach rather than study it, but thatís just what researchers at UC Berkeley did in the pursuit of building small, nimble robots suitable for disaster-recovery and search-and-rescue missions.
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