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December 20, 2013
This Year @ NASA, December 20, 2013

In 2013, NASA helped transform access to low Earth orbit … even as one of our venerable spacecraft reached the boundaries of the solar system … and we moved ahead on technologies – that will help us carry out an ambitious asteroid mission we announced … and, eventually, move on to Mars.

Here’s a quick trip back through 2013 for those and some of the other big things that happened This Year at NASA.

Commercial Success

With the successful completion, in 2013 of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, NASA now has two commercial partners capable of resupplying the International Space Station …

In March, COTS saw SpaceX launch from U.S. soil and complete a successful resupply mission to the ISS ...

And Orbital Sciences Corporation followed suit with a demonstration flight to the station of its Cygnus cargo craft in late September.

These missions also provided student experiments access to the space station’s unique capabilities as a microgravity platform for research. As the Nation's only national laboratory in space, the host of science experiments conducted on the station not only advances STEM education, but also fosters relationships with other Federal entities and the private sector.

There was also progress in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to develop American spacecraft to transport humans to low Earth orbit

In addition to SpaceX, Boeing continued development of its CST-100 capsule …

Sierra Nevada Corporation conducted the first approach-and-landing free-flight test of its Dream Chaser spacecraft …

And Blue Origin test fired a new hydrogen and oxygen-fueled rocket engine, at the company's West Texas facility.

Orion & SLS

NASA ramped up work, in 2013 on the spacecraft that will take humans to Mars -- and other deep space destinations.

In September, NASA astronauts conducted the first simulated launch aboard the Orion spacecraft – to evaluate its cockpit design and emergency procedures.

Orion’s avionics system was powered on for the first time in October, a major milestone ahead of its 2014 flight test.

And, the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket that will send Orion to space, passed its preliminary design review in August -- a key milestone in development of the SLS.

The first scheduled human mission for Orion and SLS is Exploration Mission-2 in 2021.

Asteroid Initiative

NASA’s asteroid initiative – was outlined in the President’s fiscal year 2014 budget request.

An element of it – shown in concept animation released in 2013 – is a mission to identify, capture and then send astronauts to study an asteroid … The technologies and procedures used might also be used to send astronauts to Mars.

The initiative also includes a Grand Challenge to industry, universities, international organizations, and the public … to help protect the planet from Near Earth Objects.

The need for that capability was punctuated in February – with the flyby of Asteroid 2012 DA14 – a mere 17-thousand miles from Earth.

And the same day – the explosion of a meteor in the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia. NASA scientists helped collect valuable data from that event.

While NASA began evaluating the most promising 96 of the more than 400 ideas submitted about how to protect the planet …

Plans moved ahead for the 2016 launch of OSIRIS-REx – the agency’s first asteroid sample return mission.

Life in Space

The stream of humans living and working in space continued  -- aboard the International Space Station …

Four crews launched to the ISS – which turned 15 in 2013. New station arrivals included Expedition 35/36 in March -- the first-ever crew to make an expedited six-hour spaceflight to the station.

A July spacewalk by Chris Cassidy and Luca Parmitano was cut short by a water leak in Parmitano’s helmet … but Luca was unharmed …

And the Olympic torch was taken on a spacewalk in November  -- as part of the Olympic torch relay for the 2014 Winter games in Sochi, Russia.

Technologies for future space exploration also made news. A Surface Telerobotics demo – proved an orbiting astronaut aboard the ISS could remotely control a robot on Earth …

NASA's next-generation TDRS-K, communications satellite was launched, to support space exploration …

And on Earth, 3-D printing for space exploration started to take shape. It may one day give astronauts on long duration space missions the ability to make spare parts.

Space exploration experienced celebration – with the 40 year anniversary of Skylab …

Sorrow, at the loss of some other notable NASA explorers …

And, excitement of things to come – with the selection of eight new astronaut trainees … who may one day be among the first humans to launch from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle.

Mars Exploration

Some of the biggest NASA news came from Mars – courtesy of a rover named Curiosity.

In March Curiosity found evidence that past life was possible on the Red Planet -- completing its science goal just eight months into a 2-year mission.

There’s was plenty of time to explore after that … This shot in July from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter high above -- showed the trail Curiosity had blazed to that point.

In August – Curiosity shared unprecedented shots of a Martian eclipse -- with the planet’s larger moon Phobos, passing directly in front its other moon Deimos.

Back on Earth, Curiosity’s success has put Mars exploration front and center – as a National priority.

And with the MAVEN spacecraft – launched in November to study the Martian atmosphere …

The 2016 Insight mission to probe the subsurface of the planet’s Elysium Planitia region …

And with the Mars 2020 rover mission announced in July – the push to put humans on Mars by the 2030s has a good start.

Solar System Gems

Turns out there is sound in space -- Interstellar space to be more precise – and in 2013, Voyager 1 sent a recording from beyond our solar system to prove it.

In October, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration aboard the “moon-dust-investigating” LADEE spacecraft, transmitted data between the moon and Earth at a record-breaking 622 megabits per second.

Cameras on the Cassini spacecraft produced an astounding panorama of Saturn, its moons and rings, as well as Earth, Venus and Mars in November.

Solar observatories like the IRIS telescope – launched in June … gave researchers unprecedented views of the sun.

Several of NASA’s eyes in the heavens got glimpses of Comet ISON before its ill-fated November encounter with our sun …

Including the Deep Impact spacecraft in February …

And the Hubble Space Telescope – a couple of months later – in April.

In August, Spitzer, the first telescope to see light from a planet beyond our solar system, celebrated ten years in space …

Development of the James Webb Space Telescope continued in advance of its launch in 2018 …

The Kepler mission awed scientists and the public with new exoplanet findings, including discovery of numerous planets in the habitable zone. NASA will be evaluating Kepler data for years to come …

And in February, NASA’s Van Allen Probes discovered a third Van Allen Radiation Belt around the Earth.

Earth Matters

NASA also continued the mission to improve life on our home planet in 2013 …

In February the next generation Landsat Data Continuity Mission launched – extending the program’s 40 years of monitoring Earth from space.

Catastrophic weather seen from space included a view from the ISS of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in November …

The NASA and NOAA GOES project saw the late May and early June system that produced EF-5 tornadoes near Oklahoma City …

And the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite – which will set a new standard for measuring snow and rainfall – was shipped to Japan in November -- for its launch in early 2014.

NASA investigations to study pollution, climate and weather took flight -- such as the SEAC4RS mission in August …

And the Discover AQ mission in January.

In May, a rover named GROVER began roaming around Greenland to study snow accumulation.

NASA and Homeland Security demonstrated radar technology in September called FINDER that can detect life signs in piles of rubble after a disaster.

And NASA announced a new strategic vision in August for its Aeronautics Research programs to address challenges in global air transportation … making air travel more comfortable and safer for those on the ground and in the air.

Of course, year in and year out – what NASA accomplishes is only possible because of the efforts of thousands at NASA centers and affiliate facilities around the country – the agency’s gratitude for an outstanding 2013.

Thanks for watching This Year at NASA … have a safe and happy holiday season – see you in 2014.

Page Last Updated: December 20th, 2013
Page Editor: Gary Daines