Out of this world: 5 of the coolest things in space in 2014
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, December 29, 2014 5:03AM EST
The final weeks of 2014 generated some major buzz in the world of space exploration: an unmanned probe landed on a comet, there was a test flight for NASA’s newest space vehicle, and 3-D printing went to the next dimension.
Here on Earth, CTVNews.ca has compiled a list of notable space ventures the past 12 months, with a peek at where we’re going in 2015:
1. Pioneering Philae lands on comet, takes a nap
European Space Agency scientists had smiles as wide as the sun in November. Their Philae probe landed on a comet – a first in human-directed space exploration. Dubbed the Rosetta mission, Philae had travelled for 10 years and 6.4 billion-kilometres. Once it landed on the 4-km wide comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Philae proceeded to collect data, including photos and some haunting space sounds. But Philae soon fell silent, or rather, fell asleep. The probe’s solar-powered batteries drained after the craft bounced – twice – and landed in the shadow of a cliff. But stay tuned: the probe has promised it’ll be back after it catches some zzzz’s.
2. Orion completes test flight
NASA ushered in “the Mars era,” as one space agency administrator put it, when the unmanned Orion completed its first successful test flight in early December. The capsule shot some 5,800 kilometres into the solar system, tooktwo laps around Earth, before splashing down in the Pacific. The four-hour mission brought some scientists to tears, as NASA looks to future Orion fleets to carry humans beyond the confines of Earth’s orbit. Mars is the best possibility. The buzz the launch generated had not been felt since 2012, when the Curiosity rover made an unprecedented landing on the Red Planet.
3. Comet buzzes by Mars
Astronomers were treated to “spectacular views” when a comet buzzed by Mars for the first time in more than a million years. In October, the so-called ‘Siding Spring’ comet came within 140,000 kilometres from Mars’ surface. By space standards, that’s a pretty close shave. Scientists said that there was no danger of a collision with the Red Planet, where various probes now roam, but the flyby did provide scientists an educational opportunity.
4. ISS gets 3-D printer, awaits espresso machine
Zero G for 3-D? Two months after its arrival on the Dragon capsule, the first 3-D printer in orbit built a sample replacement part – for itself. NASA brought the 3-D printer to the ISS in the hopes that it will soon be able to pump out replacement parts for broken equipment. And, there’s another new arrival expected early next year: The station’s first real Italian espresso machine. Dubbed ISSpresso, the custom-design contraption will provide not only espresso, but tea and consommé. Cosmonauts who currently get their caffeine fix with freeze-dried coffee are said to be excited at the prospect of tastier java. ISS astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti tweeted, “How cool is that? I’ll get to operate the first space espresso machine!”
5. Astronomers find ‘Earth-like’ planet
In April, a group of astronomers announced the discovery of what they called the most Earth-like planet found thus far. The planet, dubbed Kepler-186f, is approximately 10 per cent larger than our planet, scientists said, and is located in the so-called “Goldilocks zone,” where temperature is habitable – not too hot and not too cold for life. That means water could be on its surface. If you’re ever sent there, prepare to celebrate your birthday more frequently – A NASA researcher said the planet orbits its star every 130 days, unlike the Earth’s 365-day revolution around the sun.
And for next year…..
Preparing for Pluto
A spacecraft travelling more than 4.6 billion kilometres from Earth has been brought out of hibernation as NASA prepares for its planned encounter with the faraway body early in the new year.
The New Horizons spacecraft is set to begin “observing” Pluto’s system on Jan. 15, with the mission’s closest approach set to happen in mid-July. NASA said it is the farthest any space mission has ever traveled to reach its target. Paul Delaney, a professor of physics and astronomy said space academics will “milk” this mission for all its worth.
“Because we’re not going to get out that far again for a long time,” Delaney said. “There’s nothing on the books that will send us to Pluto and it takes the better part of a decade to get there, so enjoy this one.”