2016 was a long year, we approached 2017 like the end of a marathon, exhausted yet hopeful. Now it’s time to take a look back and see what we accomplished in space exploration and scientific discovery.
In space exploration news, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) launched into space heading toward the asteroid Bennu. This is NASA’s first mission to land on an asteroid, retrieve a sample and then return it to Earth. OSIRIS-REx should make it back to Earth with its sample by 2023. While we have a long wait for the spacecraft’s return, researchers will receive data from OSIRIS-REx long before the physical sample makes it back.
While OSIRIS-REx is on its way out, Juno finally reached its destination, entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4th after a five-year journey. Juno is collecting data on Jupiter’s atmosphere, composition and origins, giving researchers years of information to analyze and numbers to crunch. On the planet discovery front, the Kepler mission identified 1,284 planets, opening our eyes to the very real possibility that an Earth-like planet may exist within our field of view.
On the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko spent 340 days in orbit above the planet, setting a record for the longest stay on the ISS. They may be back home, but the data collected from their one-year mission is still used to assess the impacts of long-term space flight on the human body and psyche. Floating in a tin can is no easy feat; and there is limited data on how long periods of space flight in a confined area, with the same group of people, affects an individual. With long-term space flight in our future, human research is increasingly important to the health and safety of the mission. The crew aboard the ISS also studied fire in space with the Saffire experiments. Fire is a major risk and mitigating its effects by preventing fire danger is the main goal.
These are just brief highlights of the strides NASA and its partners made in 2016. They also worked extensively on the Orion and SLS program, focused on new propulsions systems and released numerous patents for use in the commercial sector. 2016 was a busy year for NASA, hopefully 2017 will be just as productive. For more highlights from 2016 check out my Out of This World article.