NASA may not have generated the global headlines it did half a century ago, but 2019 featured plenty of milestones and 2020 promises to be a landmark year.
SpaceX and Boeing are poised to deliver American astronauts to space from American soil for the first time since 2011 this year with Elon Musk’s ambitious start-up potentially the front-runner.
The US has had to rely on the Russians to boost its astronauts into space since ending the Space Shuttle program.
SpaceX successfully docked an unmanned Crew Dragon spaceship with the International Space Station in March and expects to launch a crewed capsule this year.
It has repeatedly tested the Crew Dragon’s parachute system and plans this month to test an in-flight abort system designed to get astronauts safely away from the rocket in the case of an emergency.
This will allow it to prepare for the launch of a crewed flight.
SpaceX boss Musk recently shared a fascinating video of what the launch should be like:
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner had already conducted the in-flight abort test when it failed to connect with the ISS during an orbital flight test last month due to a problem with the mission timer.
Neither company has yet given a date for a crewed launch.
The past year saw some fascinating milestones for NASA as the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Half a century after the historic first steps on the moon, humans still have to break orbit from the Earth but moves are underway to return us to deep space.
The past year saw NASA officially name its restructured program to send astronauts to the moon by 2024 “Artemis”, after the twin sister of Apollo.
The US wants to establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028 the program is seen as a steppingstone to manned spaceflight to Mars.
Other milestones for the agency included the selection of Dragonfly, a rotorcraft lander that will fly on Saturn’s moon Titan in search of chemical processes that could lead to life, and the first all-woman spacewalk with astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch.
Back on Earth, work has started on NASA’s X-59 QueSST at Lockheed martin’s famed Skunk Works in California.
The aircraft will test technology NASA hopes will solve the problem of supersonic booms, reducing them to the thud of a car door closing and enabling aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound over land.
The agency was also active in areas of aviation research such as urban air mobility and electrified aircraft propulsion.
Watch NASA’s video on its 2019 accomplishments:
Mission this year include the launch of the Mars 2020 Rover in 2020.
The car-sized robot is expected to launch around July 2020 and will study the habitability of Mars as well as look for signs of past microbial life.
The rover will use a new “skycrane” descent system, has a more capable wheel design and carries for the first time a drill capable of taking coring samples from Martian rocks and soil.