Thursday, December 6, 2012

Space in 2012: Year in Review...


2012 was the year we conquered Mars again. JPL/NASA photo, taken from the Curiosity Rover. 

Despite the absence of the space shuttle, space in 2012 was far from uneventful. Here are some of the events and happenings that made this year a particularly memorable one in spaceflight and space history. 

  • Mars Curiosity successfully conquers Gale Crater – In August, most space watchers around the world were chewing their nails down to the bone during MSL's EDL phase (entry, descent and landing). Mars is famously treacherous to navigate and JPL only had one chance to get the Curiosity Rover down in one piece. This, of course, included the now infamous "Seven Minutes of Terror" in which people on Earth had no idea if the whole scenario had actually worked. But the sky crane proved its might and Curiosity landed on Mars safely, returning images almost immediately. This proved to be a giant worldwide victory for JPL and NASA and showed that the space program was far from being over. 
  • SpaceX successfully conquers commercial space – In May, SpaceX made its first successful demonstration flight to the ISS. But that wasn't the end of SpaceX's victories in proving the viability of commercial capsules rendezvousing with NASA vehicles: in October, they repeated the May success with another mission to the ISS, despite an engine flare-out upon launch. Let's hope 2013 - 2014 brings more excitement from the ultra-cool SpaceX program – I have no doubts they will bring the goods to the table. I saw the October night launch and it was beyond stunning
  • Astronaut Scholarship Foundation brings the excitement again – In November, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation staged its annual Astronaut Autograph Show. It was a total blast (pardon the awful pun) for all who visited, including yours truly. I look forward to attending next year's event! Seriously, if you can get out to this event, do it – you've never had such fun with 80-year-old badasses. And, of course, proceeds go to student scholarships, which is an awesome cause and one to champion. 
  • John Young FINALLY drops his autobiography – In September, vintage badass John Young released Forever Young, after years of making vague, politely-worded threats to release memoirs. While it has received mixed reviews (some parts of the book are factually incorrect, but the man is 82 and memory is fallible, so I can understand...I barely remember what I did last week), it is filled with sometimes hilarious memories of Gus Grissom and sheds light upon his surprisingly tumultuous upbringing. Also, it has some great photos in it of a young badass in training. If you're a space freak, you have to read this...enough said. 
  • Some sad losses – During the summer, the spaceflight community lost two of its biggest heroes, Sally Ride and Neil Armstrong. They'll always be missed and the spaceflight community will forever be indebted to their amazing achievements and inspiration. These astronauts truly left a momentous legacy. We also lost some other great figures in spaceflight, such as Sam Beddingfield, pioneering NASA engineer and test pilot, who was good friends with Gus. We suspect there is a hell of a reunion going on about now.
  • NASA Socials – In 2012, NASA kept on keeping on, performing social media outreach with its NASA Socials. I was honored to attend two of these events (the KSC 50th anniversary social and the SpaceX one in October). NASA is the only federal agency I know of which invites its fans to its facilities to spread the word about space issues and awareness. It's a wonderful system and I hope I can get back to one of these events in the future, although I would love to see lots of first-time "Space Tweeps" invited to these events to experience the thrill of being up-close with history. 
Can you think of other events in spaceflight that happened in 2012? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. I know I'm missing a lot of stuff!