Thursday, January 01, 2015

2014 in Space

China put their Chang'E lander and Yutu rover on the the  Lunar surface late in 2013, and they continued to send back data in 2014. It was the first soft landing on the Lunar surface since the Soviet Luna 24 in 1976.

In July, the Opportunity rover surpassed the record of Lunokhod 2 for the greatest distance driven on a world other than Earth. By then, Opportunity had spent more than ten years exploring Mars.

On September 24, India put their Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft into Martian orbit, a few days after NASA's MAVEN spacecraft also arrived in orbit around Mars. India becomes the fourth space agency to reach Mars orbit, and the first to do so on their first try.

This brought the international flotilla of Mars orbiters to five, plus two rovers on the surface.

In November, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft, orbiting the rubber-duck shaped comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, dropped the little Philae lander to the surface, where it bounced across the unexpectedly crunchy crust of the comet nucleus.

In December, NASA's Dawn spacecraft began to capture images of Ceres, Japan launched their Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to visit an asteroid and bring back samples, NASA launched an unmanned test flight of their Orion capsule, and NASA's New Horizons spacecraft woke from hibernation approaching Pluto. Also, three potential Kuiper Belt targets have been identified for New Horizons after Pluto.

Also, the Curiosity rover reports that something is intermittently pumping methane into the Martian atmosphere. It could be something non-biological, but still, very interesting.

All in all, a good year in space.

For getting to space, it was rockier.  On August 22, the usually reliable Soyuz launcher put two Galileo satellites in the wrong orbit. On October, 28, an Antares launcher failed shortly after liftoff, fell back to the ground and exploded. On October 31 , a SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane broke up in flight, killing one of the crew, 39 year old Michael Tyner Alsbury.

Space is hard. All the more reason to appreciate the successes.

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