Private spacecraft still orbiting Earth 13 years after launch

Space Science

MYSTERY WIRE — It was 13 years ago this weekend when North Las Vegas based Bigelow Aerospace employees watched as their second spacecraft, Genesis 2, launched into orbit.

Bigelow’s efforts to create the world’s first private space station took a huge leap forward on June 28, 2007. The launch took place in Russia but mission control was in North Las Vegas at the Bigelow Aerospace plant.

Less than a year before this launch, the same mission control team was on pins and needles for the launch of the first spacecraft, also built at Bigelow Aerospace.

Like the first, the second launch and deployment were flawless. But despite the earlier success, the minutes leading up to the second launch were even more tense, both in North Las Vegas and eleven time zones away at the Yasny launch facility. Company founder Bob Bigelow and other staff made the trip to Russia for the launch.

Company founder Bob Bigelow (right) made the trip to Russia for the launch of Genesis 2.

Just after 8 a.m. Las Vegas time, a huge Russian rocket blasted off from Yasny, carrying the Genesis 2 spacecraft. The KLAS I-Team was the only news organization allowed inside the Bigelow Aerospace control room for this launch.

Genesis 2 is a ⅓ scale inflatable space habitat. Once at the correct altitude its solar panels will kick start an expansion of the craft in orbit. 

Track Genesis 2 in Real Time

There was life on this flight, but no humans. Critters including ants, scorpions, and Madagascar cockroaches were sent up to help test life support systems that will keep humans alive on future flights.

Engineers also added a Vegas touch, a robot controlled space bingo game as well as a program called ‘Fly Your Stuff.’ Regular people could pay to have personal items fly on the spacecraft. Things like pictures, tokens, medals, and even someone’s wedding ring made the trip.

The idea behind the larger program was that private entities would not have to rely on NASA to get into space. An idea that SpaceX realized in spring of 2020 when it launched a manned rocket to the International Space Station.

Earlier this year, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bigelow Aerospace laid-off its entire staff. Company founder, Bob Bigelow, told us he does not expect the door to re-open.

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