Undoubtedly, there is a touch of irony about the USAF spaceplane launch early on Sunday.
Can you guess why?
Here is the reason.
When celebrations are kicking off all over the world, to mark the 50th anniv of the first manned spaceflight, the USAF for the second time in less than a year has demonstrated the technology of launching unmanned space flights.
Jeffrey Manber, who described himself as a space geek told Russia TV: ``It takes off without people and lands without people. Nasa could no do it. As a space geek, it is fascinating.''
The spacecraft, a miniature space shuttle, is the second orbital test vehicle (OTV-2) designated as X-37B. The first such mission lifted off on April 22,2010 and operated for 91 million miles, 224 days, eight hours and 24 minutes. Of course once again the credit for proving this technology for the first time of course goes to the Russians which flew an unmanned space shuttle, ``Buran'' on November 15,1988. The total flying time was three hours. The Russians, however, did not pursue the project.
Regarding the American spaceplane, it takes off vertically and lands horizontally. On Sunday, it was launched by the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. It is carrying out some classified experiments for the USAF and is expected to remain in orbit for about 270 days. After finishing its mission it will land like a plane at the Vandenburg Air Force Base.
The official website of the USAF describes the spaceplane as an ``experimental test programme to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the USAF.'' It says that it has two-fold objectives. These are:-
* Studying reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space.
* Operating experiments which can be returned to and examined on earth.
Some of the advanced technologies which are being evaluated include guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection system, avionics and high temperature structures.
Manber feels that the mission could perhaps trigger a political fall out with both Russia and China refusing to co-operate with the US. He said that US has always been insisting that China should display greater transparency about its space programme. He said similarly the US should be open about this programme, ``As a tax payer. I would like to know. Why hide it,'' he said.
It is worth waiting for the response of China and Russia.