2021 expected to be a great year in space exploration

Fletcher Smith, Reporter

Despite 2020 being an unpredictable mess for almost everyone, there was a beacon of hope to be found in the space industry, where tremendous strides were made.

China’s Chang’e 5 lunar probe became the first spacecraft to send lunar samples to Earth in over 40 years.

In Japan, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft returned samples from the asteroid Ryugu, making them the second asteroid samples ever retrieved by a spacecraft.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX also experienced a great amount of success. The private company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft sent NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station (ISS), marking the first launch from U.S. soil since the termination of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

SpaceX also ran a test of their new Starship prototype, which, other than ending with the spacecraft exploding, was a phenomenal test run. 

Even with the major achievements made in 2020, there is reason to believe that 2021 will be an even better year for space exploration.

In February, three missions, one from the U.S., one from China, and one from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), are set to complete their journeys to Mars.

The U.S.’s Mars 2020 mission sent the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter drone to test new technology and to search the Martian surface for any signs of past life on Mars.

The Chinese spacecraft Tianwen-1 is set to become the second country behind the U.S. to land a rover on the martian surface, and will also search for past life on Mars, as well as study the planet and its atmosphere.

The U.A.E.’s mission will send the Hope spacecraft to orbit around Mars, and will study daily and seasonal weather cycles, as well as attempt to understand the events causing Mars’ climate change.

SpaceX will hope to continue to build off of the success of 2020, with events such as more Starship tests (including a planned orbital flight) and more manned Falcon 9 launches to the ISS.

2021 will also be a big year for NASA, as they plan to launch the first test of a planetary defense system, the first test launch of the Space Launch System (SLS), which will help send NASA’s Artemis mission to the moon in 2024, and the James Webb Space Telescope, which will look at distant planets and some of the earliest known galaxies.

Big things are expected for space exploration in 2021, creating an optimistic outlook for what many are predicting to be another dreary year, while also setting up the next several years for even more success in space exploration and the development of new discoveries and technologies that can benefit us greatly here on Earth.