Beyond: The major events in 2022 that shaped space exploration

tThis year has been a blast in space exploration, from NASA’s big step back to lunar missions, to glimpses into the origins of the universe and the hope that humanity will survive the doomsday scenario of an asteroid hurtling toward Earth.

These are the events that shaped the year 2022 in the advancement of space:

Back to the moon

NASA hasn’t sent a crewed spacecraft to the Moon for half a century Artemis 1 Set off from Cape Canaveral, Florida in November. On top of the mighty Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in history, an unpowered next-generation Orion capsule flew 1.3 million miles on a 25-day journey testing hardware and support systems to return humans to the lunar surface and beyond.

An unmanned Artemis I lunar rocket lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Orion plunged into the Pacific Ocean on December 11, 50 years to the day the two Apollo 17 astronauts became the last of only 12 astronauts in history. Mission managers are still evaluating data from the Artemis mission, but the program is looking forward to being on track for a crewed flyby of the moon in 2024 and a scheduled lunar landing the following year.

A glimpse of creation

In July, it was worth $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope They have sent back the highest-resolution images ever of distant galaxies as they existed billions of years ago, promising astronomers a glimpse into the dawn of creation.

An image of Jupiter taken by the James Webb Space Telescope shows weather patterns on the planet, small moons, altitude levels, cloud covers, and aurorae at the north and south poles.
An image of Jupiter taken by the James Webb Space Telescope shows weather patterns on the planet, small moons, altitude levels, cloud covers, and aurorae at the north and south poles. Photo: NASA/AFP/Getty Images

NASA chief Bill Nelson hailed the clear and stunning color images of the invisible universe as a new era in astronomy, showing Webb’s ability to look back 13.5 billion years, close to the Big Bang. “We’ll go back almost to the beginning,” he said.

In November Webb found two more galaxies, one of which may have formed just 350 million years after the Big Bang.

Touching occasion

In a “watershed moment for planetary defense” in September, NASA smashed a multimillion-dollar, car-sized spacecraft into a football field-sized asteroid and demonstrated for the first time that it could alter the orbit of a celestial body.

the Dart mission (Double Asteroid Redirect Test) was an unprecedented experiment of the space agency’s ability to defend Earth from a doomsday scenario of a massive asteroid on a collision course.

The collision shortened Dimorphos’ orbit around the larger Didymos asteroid by about 32 minutes, to 11 hours and 23 minutes.

Private investigators

The first all-private crew of astronauts returned from the International Space Station (ISS) in April, and the three paid wealthy guests join a former space shuttle commander aboard. Axiom 1 A ride on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched at Cape Canaveral.

AX crew 1 in a pre-mission training session.
AX crew 1 in a pre-mission training session. Photo: Axiom Space/AFP/Getty Images

Civilian astronauts Larry Connor, Eitan Stipe and Mark Pathé paid an estimated $55 million for the 17-day mission, during which they joined American and Russian crews aboard the International Space Station and conducted more than 25 research projects, including regenerative medicine and space technology. .

Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is scheduled to fly Axiom 2 in May 2023.

A breath of fresh air

The possibility that humans might one day live on the Red Planet moved a step closer in August when researchers announced a lunchbox-sized device called the Moxy (Experiment Using Mars’ Oxygen Resources In Situ) It was generating breathable oxygen.

Technicians at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory lower the Moxie into the belly of the Perseverance rover.
Technicians at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lower the Moxie into the belly of the Perseverance rover. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Reuters

Moxie, part of NASA’s Perseverance Astrobiology Project on Mars, has successfully produced oxygen over the course of seven test runs, in a variety of weather conditions, day and night, during the different Martian seasons. Each run produced at least 6 grams of oxygen per hour, which is about the rate of the humblest tree on Earth.

Expanded versions of Moxie could become part of the NASA Artemis program that aims to land humans on Mars in the 2030s.

Chinese space debris

China’s space program sparked global outrage in November when it used part of a rocket to deliver a module to its new device. Tiangong Space Station It fell to the ground without control, resulting in the closure of European airspace and hundreds of flight delays.

It was the second time in 2022 that parts from China’s Long March rockets threatened populated areas, prompting space experts to call on the “irresponsible” country to clean up its act. Chinese space debris has previously fallen on the Maldives and India.

China completed construction of the Tiangong for a crew of three in 2022, and is already considering expansion.

Russia go it alone

the Russian space agency Roscosmos It announced in July that it was ending its two-decade partnership with the United States around the International Space Station, and planned to focus on building its own orbital outpost.

Analysts linked the move to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with rising tensions between the United States and Russia over the conflict. The announcement came just three months after a crew of Russian cosmonauts boarded the International Space Station in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly responded “good” when Yuri Borisov, the newly appointed head of the Roscosmos agency, told him that Russia was out after fulfilling commitments to the International Space Station until 2024.

business travelers

Boeing joined Elon Musk’s SpaceX in May as the only commercial companies to have docked its spacecraft to the International Space Station, a major step forward in its plans to fly humans aboard the Starliner crew capsule.

SpaceX continues to dominate the commercial space market with two crewed missions to the International Space Station in 2022, among a total of 61 launches it has planned for this year.

Boeing, a longtime partner of NASA, has trailed SpaceX in developing the crew capsule. Its first crewed Starliner test flight has been delayed to April 2023.

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