Nasa / Space

Geek Trivia: What portion of SpaceShipOne has achieved interplanetary flight?

It is not strictly accurate to say SpaceShipOne has never left Earth's atmosphere. Technically, at least part of the world's first private manned spacecraft has achieved interplanetary flight.

Generally speaking, the now-retired SpaceShipOne has never left the Earth's atmosphere -- excepting a sample of the craft's carbon fiber frame, which is a willing passenger on NASA's New Horizons space probe heading towards Pluto.

New Horizons actually has a number of commemorative stowaways -- sort of like its own version of the space shuttle's illustrious Official Flight Kit. Besides the SpaceShipOne snippet, New Horizons is ferrying the following items inexorably towards the most famous of all dwarf planets:

  • Two coins, specifically U.S. state quarters for Florida and Maryland, where New Horizons was launched and built, respectively
  • A CD-ROM photo album of the New Horizons project team
  • Two versions of the U.S. flag
  • A 1991 U.S. stamp depicting Pluto with the caption "Not Yet Explored"
  • A CD-ROM with 434,000 names on it, from NASA's Send Your Name To Pluto promotion (I'm not making this up)
  • A portion of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer credited with discovering Pluto (seriously, I'm NOT making this up)

As for the chunk of SpaceShipOne, the carbon fiber disk was inscribed as thus:

To commemorate its historic role in the advancement of spaceflight, this piece of SpaceShipOne is being flown on another historic spacecraft: New Horizons. New Horizons is Earth’s first mission to Pluto, the farthest known planet in our solar system. SpaceShipOne was Earth’s first privately funded manned spacecraft. SpaceShipOne flew from the United States of America in 2004.

Thus, at least in some small way, SpaceShipOne got to be a real spaceship after all. That's not just some space-specific splitting of hairs, it's a tantalizing technicality worthy of Geek Trivia.

The quibble of the week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best quibble from our assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

Get this week's quibble.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

27 comments
TaDaH
TaDaH

Jay, It certainly is good to have you back and doing Geek Trivia! Keep up the good work!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The aliens who discover this inscription, if they are able to decipher it, will undoubtedly puzzle over those two words. They'll probably conclude that it has some religious significance.

pgit
pgit like.author.displayName 1 Like

I hadn't put much thought to "someone" trying to interpret our spacecraft... I don't believe anyone (or anything) ever will. But interesting food for thought on a rainy Saturday. Humanity is ultimately doomed unless the concept of "funded" goes away

bobp
bobp

There have been reports that the gravitational behavior of our solar system indicates a large, unseen, planet farther out than Pluto, but I haven't seen much on it (haven't looked hard).

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

There was that Xena-plutoid (which I think was the reason they chose to downgrade pluto from planet-hood) - the X is for #10, but they feared for the respectability of the the discipline of astronomy...

JJMach
JJMach

Eris was informally called Xena by its discoverer, Mike Brown and his team in honor of it being "Plantet X," and because he's as big a geek as the rest of us. By the by: Eris has a satelite (moon) which he wanted to call Gabrielle. In an interesting bit of "nudge-nudge-wink-wink" by the IAU, the moon got the name Dysnomia, who was the daughter of Eris, and the goddess of lawlessness. I'm sure that put a smile on the faces of both Mike and Lucy. [How's that for geek trivia?]

seanferd
seanferd

And several others are just a bit smaller.

Geezer-In-Training
Geezer-In-Training

Minutiae is the plural of minutia, not the other way around, as you indicated in a reference to Merriam-Webster???s Online Dictionary definition. They are "feminine" nouns in Latin (yes, I had a couple of years of Latin in high school, a looong time ago).

rob_cranfill
rob_cranfill

In your question you say SpaceShipOne was "literally just scratching the surface of the outer black". Gurk. No, it was only *metaphorically* "scratching" anything - I really doubt that anything got *literally* scratched! :-) /rob

rob_cranfill
rob_cranfill

(Sorry, I just realized I posted this new topic as a reply, and I can't *delete* it, only edit it. See next posting. /rob )

waltz
waltz

???Achieved interplanetary flight??? is the newest euphemism for dumping trash into space? Do they really expect anyone out there to appreciate our petty vanities? I wonder what additional, useful scientific instrumentation package could have occupied that waste of payload space?

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

You see, some astronomers changed the definition of what a planet is. But not all of them. As for the majority of Americans, and the world for that matter, the original definitions still apply. We are NOT in agreement with those astronomers on the changed definition, and as we constitute the majority of the human population, our prviously accepted definition still applies. Futhermore, the new definition of what a planet is serves no useful purpose to the vast majority of the world. Now if astronomers had defined a planet as a body with a high enough gravity to form itself into a sphere, but not enough to produce a fusion reaction, that occupies an orbit around the sun that it condensed or agglomerated in during formation; then Pluto may or may not be a planet as it's definately not undergoing fusion, is a gravitationally rounded body, but its orbit is distinctly out of the normal plane of the solar system, indicating that it probably got smacked out of an independent orbit, or was whacked out of a moon orbit around one of the gas giants, probably Neptune.

pfeiffep
pfeiffep

@ Dr_Zinj is the earth still flat???? Or possibly the earth is the center of the universe. Scientific knowledge and discovery is necessary for humanity to intelligently discus our surroundings. Currently I still think of Pluto as a planet, but I also am aware that astronomers are in flux about the definition.

pgit
pgit

First off, the sentence setting up my quibble reads thus: "As for the chunk of SpaceShipOne, the carbon fiber disk was inscribed as thus:" I doubt that paragraph was "inscribed" on the disk. I think it was "described" thus.. You correctly refer to Pluto as a dwarf planet, but the "inscription" quoted calls it the "most distant planet." My quibble is with whoever wrote the paragraph you quoted, not with you...

dlakers125
dlakers125 like.author.displayName 1 Like

A couple quick Google searches revealed that the New Horizons craft was launched on Jan. 19, 2006. But the International Astronomical Union didn't reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet until Aug. 24, 2006. Therefore, whoever inscribed "most distant planet" on the disk believed it to be so when it was launched.

Sean Morgan
Sean Morgan

Yes, it was a planet at the time of the launch, but it isn't/wasn't always the most distant. It's orbit is highly eccentric and according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluto "a small region of Pluto's orbit lies nearer the Sun than Neptune's [...] and was last closer to the Sun than Neptune between February 7, 1979 and February 11, 1999.

sboverie
sboverie

Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet. Oddly, dwarf planets in the outer solar system are called "Plutoids".

rosecoutre
rosecoutre

Failing to come up with a true quibble, I'll settle for a typo: You wrote: "More bluntly, ShapeShipOne and SpaceShipTwo are high-altitude luxury versions of the Vomit Comet." I think you meant "SpaceShipOne" instead of "ShapeShipOne." Good to see Geek Trivia again!

maj37
maj37

I was thinking of quibbling about Pluto not being a planet but HAL beat me to it. So instead I'll say that as far as I am concerned riding on New Horizons just doesn't count in my book.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But I now have the Thought firmly stuck in my head of just how do US Astronauts pass Customs when they are returned in one of Virgin's Craft at Heathrow? Talk about Illegal Aliens. Oh and if I remember correctly Pluto isn???t a Planet any longer is it? OK so just the one quibble. ;) Col

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

Have I gotten too good at my job, or are me mistakes so glaring as to be beneath citation? Whichever, I've seen scant few quibbles attached to my recent Geek Trivia columns. Don't make me resort to hiding Easter-egg style intentional gaffes. Send in the trolls!

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