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

It's been a year of astronomical achievements. Here is proof.

By: Science Desk | Kochi |
December 30, 2021 8:24:06 pm
Webb mirrorWebb's primary mirror is 6.5 metres across; a mirror this large has never before been launched into space. (NASA)

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

This year also saw a boom in private space tourism with December witnessing a record 19 people in space.

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

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 splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

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

Mars ahoy!

In February, NASA’s Perseverance rover made a historic touchdown 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. The same month Ingenuity, the small helicopter carried by Perseverance, started its flight on Mars. In September, the rover successfully collected its first rock sample for return to Earth, and in October, by studying the pictures sent by the rover, researchers confirmed that Mars’ Jezero crater was once a lake.

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

All about asteroids

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

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

On November 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 moonlet called Dimorphos and change its orbit.

 

A very hot date!

On December 14, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe entered the Sun’s atmosphere (corona) 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 dipped in and out of the corona at least three times, each a smooth transition. The probe will keep moving closer to the sun until its final orbit in 2025.

China Space Station

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

Movie in Space

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

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