With 2014 almost in the books, let’s take a look back at NASA’s biggest moments.
The red planet remains one of NASA’s favorite current and future targets in our solar system. On September 21, NASA added another member to its Mars explorers – the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft.
MAVEN reached Mars just in time too. Right after it entered Mars’ orbit, comet Siding Spring soared right past the red planet on its way towards the sun. MAVEN and other orbiting spacecraft snapped once-in-a-lifetime images and studied the comet as it rocketed by.
The surface of Mars continues to amaze. NASA’s Curiosity rover expanded our understanding of Mars earlier this month. The rover measured a substantial spike in methane in the atmosphere around the rover and detected other organic molecules in a drill sample.
It doesn’t prove there was life, but it does indicate some of the building blocks necessary to support it were present in the past.
Fresh observations of Curiosity’s Martian home, Mount Sharp, indicate Sharp was built by sediments deposited over tens of millions of years.
The future of Mars manned missions looks bright. NASA’s Orion spacecraft completed its first test flight earlier in December. The test flight marked a return to the glory days for NASA. It was the first time a spacecraft designed for manned spaceflight flew outside of low-Earth orbit.
The Orion spacecraft will conduct another test flight in 2018. This one promises to be even better as the spacecraft heads around our moon and back.
The International Space Station and Twitter
Crew members aboard the International Space Station amazed us with their wonderful images in 2014. For months, astronaut Reid Wiseman showed us the incredible views of our planet from the ISS.
Wiseman is back home now, but his fellow ISS crew members are picking up where he left off. Astronauts Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti post incredible images everyday on Twitter. Give them a follow to see some of the most incredible images you’ll ever see.
The International Space Station also received some state of the art technology. The first 3-D printer ever in space reached the ISS in November.
Closer to Home
It wasn’t just about space for NASA in 2014. The space agency also looked closer to home.
Changes to a portion of Antarctica’s ice sheet was highlighted in May. A portion of glaciers in the West Antarctic ice sheet is rapidly melting and NASA scientists believe it is irreversible.
NASA also took a look at the extreme drought impacting the western U.S. More than three-quarters of the water loss in the Colorado River Basin came from underground resources.
Recent rains have helped alleviate the drought in California some, but a lot more is needed. Hopefully, the recent flurry of storm systems continues. The heavy rains bring additional concerns though – mainly mudslides and flash flooding.
2014 was a great year for NASA. I only touched on a few of the things NASA did this year. NASA put together a great post on their other accomplishments here.