Exploration and discovery are embedded in the DNA of every human turning oxygen into carbon dioxide, but those traits seem particularly dense in the makeup of Centennial state citizens. This cavalier spirit has transformed Boulder County’s terrain into boot-beaten paths, trailhead markers, and parking lots full of Subarus. Now, the state’s latest trailblazers have their sights set on the final frontier: space exploration. Under the guidance of NASA, Sierra Nevada Corp of Louisville is hoping to revitalize the space travel industry with their revolutionary project, the Dream Chaser.
The Dream Chaser is a winged, lifting-body spacecraft that can carry up to seven crew members to and from the International Space Station. Mark Sirangelo, VP of Sierra Nevada Space Systems, provides an astute metaphor for the young shuttle: “If the old space shuttle is an eighteen wheeler, Dream Chaser is a truck. It’s much more economical and has as much volume for a crew as the old space shuttle, but it doesn’t have to carry construction materials into orbit.”
The 9-year-old project has Colorado fingerprints from nose to fuselage. The shuttle is being designed and constructed right in Louisville, the Atlas rockets that propel Dream Chaser are being built by United Launch Alliance in Centennial, and Waterton’s Lockheed Martin provides technical support for the project. Altogether, you’re looking at well over one thousand Coloradoans shaping the future of space travel.
“They’re making great progress,” says Valin Thorn, lead partner of the Dream Chaser integration team at NASA where the project falls under the umbrella of the Commercial Crew Program. “They are very good about meeting their milestones, and have an excellent probability of achieving their milestones in 2016, and 2017.” That’s fantastic news, considering their goal for 2016 is Dream Chaser’s first unmanned orbital flight. Their goal by 2017? A live crew orbital test.
Boulder County’s own spaceship is thrilling to think about. It’s reusable, safe, and can transport precious cargo with ease. It has the potential to reinvigorate the space travel industry so starry-eyed scientists can focus on their work, and not their waning wallets. Dream Chaser represents a giant leap in progress, and gives the explorer in all of us a reason to look optimistically toward the stars.