NASA Makes History

Dear Rich Lifer,

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, has dubbed this the year of space exploration, stating that 2021 will include scientific plans, “the likes of which we’ve rarely seen.”

In 2021 you can expect multiple missions to Mars, new telescope observations, and plans to return humans to the moon!

There are countless missions to look forward to including the Parker Solar Probe, which will make its next close approach to the sun in January and the OSIRIS-REx mission, which will begin its two-year return journey to Earth after successfully collecting a sample of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

We can also continue to learn from the ongoing NASA Juno Mission which is gathering more knowledge about Jupiter and its moons.

Even though the pandemic derailed or delayed some scientific plans, here are some things you can look forward to in 2021.

Exploring Mars

Not even 2020 could ruin multiple missions to Mars including China’s Tianwen-1, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe and NASA’s Perseverance Rover.

These missions took advantage of the unique positioning of Mars and Earth both being on the same side of the sun. This occurs every 26 months and allows for quicker and more efficient trips.

All three trips are scheduled to reach Mars in February, meaning 2021 will likely bring a slew of new discoveries from the planet!

The Hope Probe will orbit Mars for a Martian year — 687 Earth days — and will gather data about Mars’ atmosphere.

Tianwen-1, whose name means “Quest for Heavenly Truth,” is China’s first mission to Mars. It’s goal is to orbit the planet then land a rover on the surface to gather information about Mars’ soil, geological structure, environment, atmosphere, and potential water supply.

Perseverance will land on Mars on February 18 and then begin a two year mission. The Perseverance Rover is equipped with a helicopter called Ingenuity, which will be the first helicopter to fly on another planet.

The goal of Perseverance is to watch and record Ingenuity’s inaugural flight and to search for evidence of ancient life, study Mars’ climate and geology and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth via planned future missions.

New Space Observation

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is sent to launch in October of 2021 and will usher in a new age of space observation.

The telescope was set to launch in March 2021 but has faced setbacks due to both the pandemic and technological challenges.

It comes equipped with a mirror that can extend 21 feet and 4 inches which will allow the telescope to answer questions about our solar system, study exoplanets in new ways and peer deeper into the universe than ever before.

The record breaking size of the mirror does come with a few unique challenges. For one, the mirror is so large it wouldn’t fit inside a rocket! Therefore, the telescope had to be designed as a series of moving parts that fold origami-style to fit inside a 16 foot space for launching.

Eric Smith, NASA Webb’s program scientist at the agency’s headquarters, stated:

Webb is designed to build upon the incredible legacies of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, by observing the infrared universe and exploring every phase of cosmic history…The observatory will detect light from the first generation of galaxies that formed in the early universe after the big bang and study the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets for possible signs of habitability.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is expected to have it’s “first light” in 2021. “First light” is when the first astronomical image is captured following the completion of a telescope.

This is something to look forward to until 2023, when observations are set to begin at its base in Chile — but will be run by America’s National Science Foundation. The observatory includes a camera the size of an SUV which can spot a golf ball from 15 miles away and capture stunning 3,200-megapixel images.

It has been designed to map the Milky Way, explore dark energy and dark matter, and survey the solar system. The observatory is expected to survey for 10 years, during which time it is expected to image 20 billion galaxies.

The observatory itself is named after Vera C. Rubin, a pioneering female astronomer who mentored fellow female astronomers and advocated for women in sciences.

Considered to be one of the world’s most influential astronomers, Rubin provided some of the first evidence that dark matter — which makes up much of the universe but can’t be seen — existed. She passed away in 2016.

The NASA Artemis Program

Despite the pandemic, the NASA Artemis program made great strides towards its goal of landing the first woman and second man on the moon by 2024.

The accomplishments achieved for the Artemis program so far include the introduction of the Artemis Accords and signing by other nations; the completion of the core stage of the SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule that will carry Artemis astronauts to space; and progress on the Gateway lunar outpost that will help astronauts land on the moon.

Some hefty milestones considering most of us were proud to move from the couch to the fridge on any given afternoon in 2020!

US Vice President Mike Pence announced the first team of 18 astronauts that will be part of the program during the eighth meeting of the National Space Council at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This team will explore the moon’s south pole, with a focus on conducting experimental science and learning more about the origin of water on the moon.

Artemis’ first mission in 2021 will be an uncrewed flight test, but by 2023 Artemis II will be a crewed flyby of the moon. Then the Artemis III mission will actually land astronauts on the surface of the moon.

This will certainly be a year filled with discovery as we continue to go where no man has gone before and put more footprints on the moon…

To a Richer Life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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