Yearender 2021: Space tourism, Mars decoded, a Webb(ed) Christmas present and more

The year 2021 will be remembered by most as the year of vaccination and variants of the coronavirus. But it was also a year that pushed the boundaries of space exploration. NASA has presented the perfect envelope for 2021 with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which will help answer questions about the first stars and galaxies formed.

This year has also seen a boom in private space tourism with a record 19 people in space in December.

In July, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson soared into space aboard his own rocket and experienced three to four minutes of weightlessness before returning safely.

Nine days later, billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos also completed his spaceflight. Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched an all-civilian crew into space in September. They spent three days in orbit before being stranded in the Atlantic Ocean.

This month, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa became the first space tourist to visit the International Space Station in more than a decade. He spent 12 days in space to train for his trip around the moon with SpaceX in 2023.

March Oh!

In February, NASA’s Perseverance rover made a historic landing on the Red Planet after “the seven minutes of terror”.

In April, the Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) produced 5 grams of oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere, enough for an astronaut to breathe for 10 minutes. In the same month, Ingenuity, the small helicopter carried by Perseverance, began its flight on Mars. In September, the rover successfully collected its first rock sample for return to Earth, and in October, by studying images sent by the rover, researchers confirmed that Mars’ Jezero crater was once a lake.

In February, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope spacecraft entered Mars orbit to study the Martian atmosphere and climate dynamics. In May, China’s first Mars rover, named Zhurong after an ancient fire god, also began exploring the planet’s surface.

All about asteroids

In May, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft left asteroid Bennu with dust samples and began its two-year long journey to Earth.

In October, NASA launched the Lucy mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Considered rich in carbon compounds, asteroids could even provide new insights into the origin of organic materials and life on Earth, NASA said.

On Nov. 24, NASA launched the “DART mission,” which is the agency’s first planetary defense test mission. Between September 26 and October 1, 2022, the spacecraft is expected to intentionally collide with a small moon called Dimorphos and change its orbit.

A very hot date!

On December 14, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe entered the atmosphere (corona) of the Sun for the first time.

Launched in 2018, the probe was 13 million kilometers from the center of the sun. According to the researchers, the spacecraft dove in and out of the corona at least three times, each a smooth transition. The probe will continue to approach the sun until its final orbit in 2025.

Chinese space station

In April, the first module of the Chinese space station called Tianhe (Harmony of Heaven) was launched. “(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in building a strong nation in both technology and space,” President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying by state media in a congratulatory speech.

movie in space

In October, Russian actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko spent 12 days on the International Space Station and produced the world’s first movie in space.

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