Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gallery: Inside the Secret Space Plane Landing | Danger Room | Wired.com

 Se more photos at the link.
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/12/gallery-inside-the-secret-space-plane-landing?pid=147
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When the Air Force launched its secret, robotic space plane this spring, military officials confessed that they weren't exactly sure when it was coming back. More than seven months later, the X-37B landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where it was met with Air Force personnel in SCAPE suits (self-contained atmospheric protective ensemble). They gave the robo-orbiter an initial once-over — and made sure the area was safe for humans, too.
Here are the pictures (and infrared video) of the landing, courtesy of U.S. Air Force Space Command.
What the 29-foot-long craft did during all those months in orbit is still a matter of intense speculation. Conspiratorially minded types conjectured that it might be a prototype for an orbiting bomber. Others warned of "a johnny-on-the-spot weapons platform to take out the satellite assets of an enemy."
Prominent members of the Russian military establishment screamed that Moscow needed to build up its own space arsenal, ASAP. The British press, meanwhile, made dark insinuations about "the testing of new laser weapon systems" in space.
Better-informed observers believe the X-37B could be used by the Pentagon as a cheap replacement for the all-but-defunct Space Shuttle — a way to get spy sensors into orbit in a hurry.
And the U.S. military's use of space planes is only getting started. As David Axe noted last week, the Air Force has commissioned a second X-37, to enter service next spring. The first X-37 could find itself back in orbit in short order, as well. Which means we could see more dudes in crazy-looking suits meeting up with robotic spacecraft soon.
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