2014 will be a year to remember for space missions. No matter what achievements are awaiting us in the future (hopefully plenty), the last 12 months have seen something that will remain in history. I’m going to mention here only few of them – this list is not complete – but they are more than enough to marvel and dream.
Mars – the Red Planet has been the focus of a few missions, already carried one or just planned. Here is the case to remember the rover Curiosity, but also NASA’s spacecraft MAVEN and the Indian MOM, all with the task of better investigating aspects of the Martian surface and atmosphere.
Rosetta and Philae – for the first time ever a comet has been closely studied and even directly explored thanks to ESA’s Rosetta mission. Rosetta will keep orbiting the comet during its travel toward the Sun, and for sure wonders and surprises are not over yet.
Orion – Orion is NASA’s new deep-space rocket that will open a new era in the manned exploration of the Solar System. The first trial was just a few days ago (December 5, 2014), when Orion launched atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a two-orbit, four-hour flight that tested many of the systems most critical to safety. Well done.
New Horizons – One of the fastest spacecrafts ever sent to space, and on its way since 2006, New Horizons is tasked with the exploration of the outskirt of the Solar System and farther on, to the Kuipert Belt. It has just woken up from hibernation and it’s on pre-check routines before getting to work.
Finally, it has to be remembered that space is no longer only a national space agencies’ business. Private corporations are now getting involved in this adventure too. One example for all? Elon Musk’s Space X launched the unmanned space capsule Dragon on September, 21, which delivered components to the ISS (among other things).
What next? Before Orion will keep pushing mankind’s boundaries and taking back us to Moon and farther away to Mars (in the next 10-15 years), New Horizons is going to send to Earth the first direct images ever of Pluto and its frosty neighbours – six weeks from now. Stay tuned.