On 23 February 2009, SpaceX announced that its chosen phenolic-impregnated carbon ablator heat shield material, PICA-X, had passed heat stress tests in preparation for Dragon’s maiden launch. The primary proximity-operations sensor for the Dragon spacecraft, the DragonEye, was tested in early 2009 during the STS-127 mission, when it was mounted near the docking port of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and used while the Shuttle approached the International Space Station. The DragonEye’s lidar and thermography (thermal imaging) abilities were both tested successfully. The COTS UHF Communication Unit (CUCU) and Crew Command Panel (CCP) were delivered to the ISS during the late 2009 STS-129 mission. The CUCU allows the ISS to communicate with Dragon and the CCP allows ISS crew members to issue basic commands to Dragon. In summer 2009, SpaceX hired former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox as vice president of their new Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Department, in preparation for crews using the spacecraft.
The Face Behind The Veil. Titan is a little larger than Mercury--the smallest major planet inhabiting our Solar System. Indeed, Titan would have been classified as a major planet in its own right if it orbited our Sun instead of Saturn. The Huygens Probe images lifted the veil from the face of this distant moon-world, revealing a youthful surface that is both smooth and relatively free of impact craters. Huygens also found that this icy, hydrocarbon-saturated moon's climate includes those heavy rains of gasoline, as well as raging, roaring winds. Some of Titan's surface features were found to be hauntingly akin to certain surface features on Earth. Imagine, a frigid, distant shadow-region in the far suburbs of our Solar System, where a myriad of twirling icy objects--some large, some small--orbit our Sun in a mysterious, mesmerizing phantom-like ballet within this eerie and strange swath of darkness. Here, where our Sun is so far away that it hangs suspended in an alien sky of perpetual twilight, looking just like a particularly large star traveling through a sea of smaller stars, is the Kuiper Belt--a mysterious, distant deep-freeze that astronomers are only now first beginning to explore. Makemake is a denizen of this remote region, a dwarf planet that is one of the largest known objects inhabiting the Kuiper Belt, sporting a diameter that is about two-thirds the size of Pluto. In April 2016, a team of astronomers announced that, while peering into the outer limits of our Solar System, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) discovered a tiny, dark moon orbiting Makemake, which is the second brightest icy dwarf planet--after Pluto--in the Kuiper Belt. Many people listen to the weather report on the radio before they head out the door in the morning so they can be prepared for the day to come.