The end of 2016 saw the passing of one of the most well-known American astronauts, John Glenn. During the Cold War, John Glenn was the poster child for space exploration and American ingenuity. He became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962, jettisoning the U.S. into the space race with the USSR. Despite the failure of the automatic system on his maiden voyage and the subsequent discovery that the heat shield was loose, Glenn managed to return to Earth safely, becoming a national hero.
He served four terms as a U.S. senator from Ohio. In 1998, he again returned to space on the shuttle Discovery for a 9-day mission, making him the oldest person in space at the age of 77. I highly recommend watching The Right Stuff for a dramatic and highly entertaining rendition of the Mercury mission.
My favorite bit of space news actually occurred in 2015, but wasn’t released until February of 2016, so I’m counting it as 2016 news. The first ever detection of gravitational waves on December 26, 2015 confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, 100 years after it was hypothesized. As two black holes merge, the force of their collision turns mass into energy creating gravitational waves, seen as ripples in the fabric of spacetime. Researchers using LIGO interferometers measured a minute change in distance between two mirrors, detecting the distortion of spacetime and confirming the existence of gravitational waves. An amazing discovery 100 years in the making!
In science news, researchers sequenced DNA on the ISS for the first time this year. By the end of 2016, over one billion base pairs of DNA were analyzed using a hand-held device developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies called the MinION. With this device, crew members now have the power to identify microbes they collect in space, both onboard and off. Infectious disease as well as crew health can be quickly analyzed and processed in a matter of minutes without having to send samples back to Earth. Think of it as a real life Tricorder (my fellow Trekkies will understand), my inner nerd is showing through.
We took the good with the bad in 2016, great strides followed by a great loss. We look to 2017, into the unknown, like the mysteries of space we hope for the best and steel ourselves to the worst. Apollo Mapping wishes you a very Happy New Year!