2021 in review: the best space stories of the year


2021 has been a great year for space news.

From the commercial space race to operations on the Red Planet, space exploration was in the spotlight.

Here are some of the biggest moments:

February 18 – NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover lands on Mars

On February 18, NASA’s fifth Mars rover, Perseverance, successfully landed on Mars’ Jezero crater.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration around the world – when we know we’re about to uncover and sharpen our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks, ”NASA said at the time. Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a statement. “The March 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of perseverance even in the most difficult of situations, inspiring and advancing science and exploration.”

April 19 – NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter flies

On April 19, NASA made history again after its Ingenuity Mars helicopter made the first-ever powered and controlled flight to another planet.

The helicopter hovered for 30 seconds at its planned altitude of 10 feet and spent 39 seconds in the air.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen here in a close-up taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover. This image was taken on April 5, the 45th Martian, or sol, day of the mission.
(Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU)


“Ingenuity made its first flight – the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet! Flight control was heard saying on a NASA audio broadcast.

May 8 – Chinese rocket thruster drops to Earth

On the evening of May 8, the center stage of the Chinese Long March 5B thruster re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, burning over the Maldives.

After NASA administrator Bill Nelson and others accused Beijing of acting recklessly, the Chinese government said it was unfairly held to different standards from the United States and other space programs.

“We are ready to work with other countries, including the United States, to strengthen cooperation in the use of space, but we also oppose double standards on this issue,” Hua Chunying said. , spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At the end of the month, the country’s first Martian rover landed on the planet and began to roam its surface.

June 2 – NASA selects two missions to study Venus

On June 2, NASA announced that it had selected two new missions to Venus.

The VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) and DAVINCI + (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gas, Chemistry, and Imaging) missions map the closest planetary neighbor to Earth and measure its atmosphere.

DAVINCI + will also determine if the planet has ever had an ocean.

They should be launched between 2028 and 2030.


July 11 – Richard Branson reaches space aboard the Virgin Galactic rocket

On July 11, billionaire Richard Branson and five teammates launched into space, flying more than 53 miles above Earth on a final test mission before launching commercial space flights during the new Year.

The 71-year-old became the first person to take off in his own spaceship, beating Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos by nine days.

November 15 – Russian weapons test threatens the International Space Station (ISS)

On November 15, a Russian weapons test created more than 1,500 space junk, threatening astronauts aboard the ISS.

Nelson told The Associated Press at the time that he was “outraged” by the action and that it was “unbelievable that the Russian government is doing” the test.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the test also threatened the satellites.

This image provided by NASA shows an artist's rendering of the Parker solar probe approaching the Sun.

This image provided by NASA shows an artist’s rendering of the Parker solar probe approaching the Sun.
(Steve Gribben / Johns Hopkins APL / NASA via AP)

Russian officials have dismissed accusations that they endangered astronauts and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the strike was carried out “with surgical precision”.

According to Nelson, astronauts now face a risk four times greater than normal from space debris.

December 14 – NASA spacecraft “hits” the sun for the first time

On December 14, a spacecraft made contact with the sun for the first time.


NASA’s Parker solar probe passed through the solar corona, or its upper atmosphere, and sampled particles and magnetic fields there.

Scientists said it took months to retrieve the data and several months to confirm it.

Parker – launched in 2018 – was five million miles from the center of the sun when it first crossed the line between the solar atmosphere and the outgoing solar wind.

The spacecraft has dived in and out of the crown at least three times.

Preliminary data suggests Parker also dove into the crown during his ninth close-up in August, but scientists said further analysis was needed.

Parker will continue to move closer to the sun and dive deeper into the corona until its final grand orbit in 2025.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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