Some of the top NASA stories of 2014

imagesNeil Armstrong-Apollo 11:
“That’s one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.”

With 2014 marking the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic first step on the moon, NASA outlined plans for America’s next giant leap in space exploration — to send astronauts to Mars.

To prepare for that leap, NASA stepped up development in 2014 of many game-changing technologies and capabilities.

The agency worked on solar electric propulsion technology ,which could enable cost-effective trips to deep space destinations.

Destinations that could include a human mission in the 2020s to an asteroid placed into orbit around the moon by a robotic spacecraft, as part of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission. Agency officials plan to announce more specific details about potential candidate asteroids and the design of the mission in early 2015. 

The successful first flight test in June of the saucer-shaped Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, demonstrated an inflatable system that could be used to land heavier and larger payloads than ever before on planets with atmospheres …

The International Space Station continued its role as a unique platform off the Earth where astronauts are working for the Earth, with biomedical research … and with payloads delivered by commercial partners SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation – such as the first 3-D printer in space… which could be used to manufacture parts in space….

… and the addition of an Earth science instrument to the space station’s exterior to monitor ocean surface wind speed and direction for use in weather forecasting and for monitoring large-scale changes in the Earth’s climate. 

In September, NASA selected two U.S. commercial providers, Boeing and SpaceX, to develop the systems to transport astronauts from U.S. soil to and from the space station … with a goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia in 2017.

Development of the rocket and spacecraft designed to carry astronauts on NASA’s Journey to Mars progressed in 2014 …

The green light was given in August, to start building the Space Launch System heavy lift rocket, following successful completion of a key review. New manufacturing facilities began testing operations and prototypes built with new, more lightweight composite materials were evaluated.

Launch Commentator:
“And liftoff at dawn, the dawn of Orion and a new era of American space exploration.”

The successful first flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft in December, was a historic moment for the agency and a critical step on the Journey to Mars. The 4.5 hour trip to space and back, tested the Orion systems critical to crew safety in preparation for deep space missions by astronauts to an asteroid and then on to the Red Planet. 

NASA’s fleet of Mars robotic explorers continued its work in 2014…

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft arrived at the Red Planet in September as the newest member of the fleet. MAVEN is on a mission to investigate how the past loss of atmospheric gases impacted the Martian climate through time.

Samples from the first rock drilled at the base of Mount Sharp by the Curiosity rover, provided the first confirmation of a mineral mapped from orbit by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

And the science instruments were selected for the Mars 2020 rover, the next robotic explorer NASA will send to Mars in 2020. It will conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations, including potential habitability of the current environment and directly searching for signs of past life.

Charlie Bolden:
“NASA’s role in studying and protecting our home planet has never been stronger.” 

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden called 2014 the “Year of Earth” for NASA – with the agency planning to launch five Earth science missions within a year’s time …

The first images from the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, launched in February, of an “extra-tropical cyclone” – illustrated the mission’s ability to provide next generation, detailed observations of global precipitation. 

In April, NASA celebrated Earth Day with the hugely popular online “global selfie” postings from around the world to help promote environmental awareness.

And the test data from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission following its launch in July, confirmed the health of the spacecraft’s instruments. OCO-2 will help track our impact on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the various human-made and natural sources of CO-2 

2014 included new discoveries, new intriguing mysteries and new reasons to explore our solar system – and beyond …

In November, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft – which has three NASA instruments onboard – successfully landed its Philae robotic probe on the surface of a speeding comet — the first-ever soft landing of a spacecraft on a comet …

And, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope discovered a new Earth-sized planet in April, about 500 light-years from us that also may have liquid water. 

The agency’s premier aeronautics research centers continued work on solutions to help improve the safety, efficiency and comfort of air travel … while reminding people NASA is with you when you fly.

A demonstration in November featured a wing that can change shape in flight — this could lead to technology for quieter and more fuel-efficient airliners …

In September, NASA co-hosted an event that showcased two new technologies being evaluated that could improve takeoff time predictability of flights and help flight dispatchers choose more efficient routes around bad weather.

Kali Armstrong:
“Home of the brave …”

And in May, NASA celebrated the renaming of its Dryden Flight Research Center to The Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center – and designated Hugh Dryden’s name to the center’s aeronautical test range.