NASA has recently reported its major breakthroughs and groundbreaking achievements in 2014. It seems that the most important achievements were related to Mars exploration – rover Curiosity’s landing on Mars’ surface and Orion spacecraft’s (photo) short flight test. Orion would be the first spacecraft to safely get a human crew to Mars by 2021.
Orion’s flight test was successfully completed early this December and it lasted about 4 and a half hours. Orion had no crew on it but it successfully got into space and back during this first test. NASA now plans to use Orion as a vehicle to get humans also on an asteroid.
This year, NASA appointed two commercial companies (Boeing and SpaceX) to built two spacecrafts able to transport crew from Earth to the International Space Station (ISS) and back. Space X’s Crew Dragon II and Boeing’s CST-10 spacecrafts are scheduled to transport humans in space in 2017. The US hopes that in two years time it would stop relying exclusively on Russia to get goods and crew to the ISS.
However, NASA’s major breakthroughs in 2014 were linked to Mars exploration.
In July, NASA said that it plans to launch a robotic rover to Mars by 2020. Mars 2020 rover would carry tools to conduct further analysis on the Red Planet’s distant history and to prepare the next human mission to Mars.
On September 21, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), another robotic explorer, entered Mars’ atmosphere. MAVEN spacecraft would now study for the first time the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere.
On October 19, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Opportunity rover took the first high resolution pictures of comet Siding Spring while it was making a historic flyby of Mars.
In December, NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars gathered important data about Mars’ surface in Gale crater. In that crater, Curiosity measured a tenfold spike in methane, spotted organic material in a Martian soil sample and took impressive photos of Mount sharp an 18,000-feet tall mountain located in the center of Gale crater.
NASA scientists said that the air and soil sample gathered by Curiosity do not point at the existence of microbial life on Mars, but reveal that Mars is a planet that could shelter life on its surface.
Curiosity’s images and data about Mount Sharp revealed that this impressive Martian mountain was formed by several ancient rivers that had carried into the Gale crater countless layers of sediments over hundreds of millions of years.
Researchers also said that if Mars had ancient rivers it could have also hosted a very ancient ocean on its surface that could have been home for primordial forms of life.
Image Source: Wikipedia