Neil Armstrong definitely wasn’t lying when he said “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as he took his first steps on the moon in 1969. Since this historic moment, space research has been developing rapidly with new heights being reached every year - 2015 being no exception. So what exactly was achieved in 2015? And will 2016 take us even further into the unknown?
Perhaps the most significant achievement in 2015 was NASA’s developments in research into Mars and the eminent mission to send astronauts to the red planet in 2030. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provided the strongest evidence of liquid water flowing on Mars to date. This, along with signs of a form of nitrogen that were found, provides evidence to the theory that life was once supported on ancient Mars. These developments have made the proposed “Martian Landing”, in 2030, much more plausible and according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, “NASA is closer to sending American Astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history.” In 2015, NASA also completed the decade long trip to Pluto, one of the furthest explorations to space yet, only succeeded by the voyager 1’s trek to the edge of the solar system.
In 2016, NASA will continue to research the long-term effects of weightless-ness, and how these findings will impact the highly anticipated trip to Mars. Preparations are underway too for the arrival of another Mars Lander, robotic explorers, in late September. This Mars Lander, “Insight” will delve into the interior of the red planet in the search for answers about the evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth.
In late March, the government-funded agency will also send another three astronauts to the International Space Station. Through continued research on board the International Space Station, NASA is testing advanced technologies that improve human health and with that, hopefully enable longer missions, further into the unknown. If all goes to plan, these advancements will also allow for astronauts to return to Earth in a matter of one or two days, and validate the quest for astronauts to live and work in places such as Mars. NASA will also aim at bridging the three overarching challenges that they will face in sending astronauts to the red planet: transportation, working in space and staying healthy.
While NASA focused on their journey to Mars, Sir Richard Branson made sure that ventures into space weren’t limited to the government funded organisation, declaring the launch of the very first commercial space line, Virgin Galactic. With the vision of making space more accessible, Mr Branson is offering flights to outer space for anyone with a spare $US 250 000. In January 2015, Branson introduced the world to his second space ship, and since then Virgin Galactic, began hiring, training and testing their pilots. Branson has also been creating satellite launchers, which caters to the small satellite market. In 2016, testing and developments of rockets will continue, each flight lasting longer and going higher until eventually the company is satisfied with the safety of their instruments to send Virgin Galactic astronauts on their maiden voyage.
2015 was also a big year for commercial space company SpaceX, which completed successful testing with their first aircraft designed to carry astronauts to space. The Falcon 9 rocket was also successfully launched in late December carrying 11 satellites. Of course, these successes couldn’t come without some failures. In the Falcon 9’s first attempted lift off, the mission had to be aborted due to over pressured liquid oxygen tank. SpaceX has plans for a whopping 25 space launches in 2016 alone, all of which are designed for orbits and to improve satellite technology. Of these 25 launches, 12 of them will be using Falcon 9, bringing the total launches of the aircraft to a staggering 35 launches.
There is no doubt that we have come along way since the space landing in 1969, however, it will still be many years of research and scientific developments before we find answers to the never ending puzzle that is space.