Beyond Our Planet: 2020

Natalie Bachman

2020 was undoubtedly an unusual year, throwing its own set of twists and turns. Amid a pandemic, civil rights movements, and a presidential election, humanity still managed to explore the world we live in – or rather, what lies beyond. Despite the raging pandemic, the aerospace community managed to further space exploration, and establish our knowledge of the vast universe we live in.

Perhaps the most famous of these expeditions was that of SpaceX, in which they launched their Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket. This milestone proved to be a light for the country when we were a mere 3 months into the pandemic. 

Under the leadership of Elon Musk, the spacecraft took flight from the Kennedy Space Center back in May of 2020. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were the two men selected to partake on this historical journey. While the pandemic prevented accumulation of spectators, millions of Americans watched it live on television. However, in adherence to safety measures, both astronauts were required to quarantine prior to the launch. Eventually, the launch was delayed by a week due to harsh winds.

Amid this expedition, the company managed to acquire the title of first private company to send humans to the International Space Station (ISS). This day also marked the first time the USA sent humans into orbit since 2011. Once they reached the ISS, the Dragon crew met up with members of the Expedition 63 crew. On August 2, the capsule splashed down into the Gulf of Mexico, marking a successful end to the mission.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has also continued to develop plans for their Artemis programme, intended to send more men, as well as the first women, to the moon by 2024. Given that astronauts are stereotypically men, sending a woman to the moon would be a step towards defying society’s gender stereotypes. 

The Artemis 1 spacecraft is a pivotal step on the journey to the moon, aiming to travel 280,00 miles from Earth uncrewed. Although the initial launch was supposed to occur in the later half of 2020, it was pushed out to November 2021. Crewed missions will follow, eventually building up to the moon mission. 

Amid the Artemis programme, NASA hopes to launch a satellite into the moon’s orbit, and establish a permanent, habitable base on the lunar south pole. Both could be used to aid astronauts on future missions. The Artemis programme will be a stepping stone towards NASA’s long awaited Mars mission, as it will allow them to test new technologies that may be beneficial for this prestigious goal. 

The universe has always been one of humanity’s greatest wonders, and seeking to discover what lies beyond the bounds of our planet has intrigued and motivated many over the years. Obviously, the pandemic slowed progress. Yet the industry persevered, and ignited a small flame of hope amid our darkest years.

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