We are already two months into the year 2013, but I think reflections on the past year are still beneficial. 2012 was a surprisingly big year for space exploration, and major thresholds were broken in the process. Another robot emigrated to mars, one man has achieved the fastest speed in unassisted free-fall, US finally catches the global trend of private space companies, and NASA has yet again made startling announcements which can easily be exaggerated.
1. Curiosity lands on Mars
This was possibly the most publicized astronomical event of the year, and it deserves to be for a number of reasons. Principally, it is now the heaviest and most complex piece of equipment that has now been sent to MARS and successfully landed. The novel method of using a sky crane to lower it safely to the ground could show the way forward to sending even heavier packages to Mars. This may be essential for future missions to drop entire laboratories and build the infrastructure on Mars prior to manned missions (a long time from now, but I have my hopes). In fact, it might not be long before we are able to design a rover to make a round trip to Mars and back again. Also, it shoots laser beams from its eyes.
2. Felix jumps crosses the speed barrier
Besides making his way into the record books and touching thousands through his daring stunt, Felix Baumgartner has opened up new research with his jump from the stratosphere. Throughout history, humanity has always cautiously ascribed a natural speed limit to the human body. However, there have always been less risk-averse humans on hand to prove this theory wrong (extreme acceleration is still a problem). This time Felix and his engineering team have proved that the human body can break the speed barrier without the assistance of an aerodynamic, metal shell. This will aid in developing new evacuation protocol from high altitudes and designs of new space suits. However, I won’t be saving my money for a skydiving trip to the stratosphere anytime soon.
3. Private space exploration comes to the USA
Back in October, SpaceX completed its first mission to the International space station on contract with NASA. I’m not excited because this is new or a first (that record belongs to Arianespace in 1984) but I am excited that America finally has a private space transit companies. Hopefully they might take the space industry in a new direction, although there are doubts over whether beneficial competition can be achieved in such a small market. Nevertheless the new contract with SpaceX represents a significant step toward an orbital vacation resort (and who doesn’t want that?).
4. NASA Announces possibility of Warp Drive Project
If this topic doesn’t immediately bring to mind the thought of building the USS Enterprise or any other trans-galactic space shuttle, then you must either be a theoretical physicist or have missed out on a lot of phenomenal literature and culture. Of course this idea is still in its earliest stages of conception, but all that is needed is to demonstrate feasibility with a small prototype. This is one topic I am truly excited to follow as it develops over the next few years. But it’s anyone’s best guess at to when the first piece of experimental evidence might come about.