Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins, Crewmates Return Safely to Earth

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is helped out of the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft just minutes after she, along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Sergey Ryzhikov, landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov returned after 185 days in space having served as Expedition 63-64 crew members aboard the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, returned to Earth on Saturday, following six months living and working aboard the  International Space Station.

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NASA Astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Crewmates Arrive Safely at Space Station

The Soyuz MS-18 rocket is launched with Expedition 65 NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Roscosmos cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Oleg Novitskiy, Friday, April 9, 2021, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and two Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station Friday, bringing its number of residents to 10 for the coming week.

The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft carrying Vande Hei and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos docked to the station’s Rassvet module at 7:05 a.m. EDT. Docking occurred two orbits and about three hours after a 3:42 a.m. launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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Watch Next Space Station Crew Launch Live on Friday on NASA TV, NASA App

Expedition 65 crew members Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos, left, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos, center, and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, pose for a photo during qualification exams, Saturday, March 20, 2021, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City, Russia, in advance of their scheduled launch April 9 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Three space travelers, including NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, are poised to launch Friday, April 9, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app will provide comprehensive prelaunch and launch-to-docking coverage.

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Video: VP Kamala Harris Calls Astronauts Shannon Walker & Kate Rubins on ISS

Video Caption: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris placed a special phone call to Shannon Walker and Kate Rubins aboard the International Space Station to find out what it’s like to do science in space.

During the month of March, NASA celebrates and pays tribute to the many women who have played an essential role in shaping the history of the agency.

Learn more about Shannon Walker by visiting: https://www.nasa.gov/astronauts/biogr…

Learn more about Kate Rubins by visiting: https://www.nasa.gov/astronauts/biogr…

Russian Cosmonauts Patch Cracks in Space Station’s Zvezda Module

The International Space Station, photographed by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli following the undocking of his Soyuz-TMA on 23 May 2011. (Credit: ESA/NASA)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — Russian ISS-64 long-term expedition crewmembers have completed the repair works in the Zvezda service module of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

According to RSC Energia press service, “the International Space Station crew has completed the repair works of the Zvezda module hull. In the coming days Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov will close the Zvezda module hatches to perform pressure level checks.”

All the works are conducted under the supervision of the ISS Russian Segment Chief Operation Control Group and RSC Energia specialists.

Currently, the 64th long-term expedition crew is working on board the International Space Station. The crew consists of Roscosmos cosmonauts Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov, as well as NASA astronauts Kathleen Rubins, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

Astronauts Complete Spacewalk to Prepare Space Station for Power Upgrades

Spacewalkers Victor Glover and Kate Rubins are pictured at the mast canister, installing bracket support struts to the base of the solar array on Feb, 28th 2021. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover concluded their spacewalk on Sunday at 1:16 p.m. EST, after 7 hours and 4 minutes. In the third spacewalk of the year outside the International Space Station, the two NASA astronauts began work to install modification kits required for upcoming solar array upgrades.

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Multiple ISS National Lab-Sponsored Microbial Research Investigations Presently Being Performed on the Orbiting Platform

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., February 9, 2021 (CASIS PR) – Astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) are currently supporting two investigations sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory that are focused on microbial research. The space station’s unique microgravity environment allows investigators to conduct fundamental research not possible on Earth that may yield valuable insights in the life sciences, ultimately leading to applications to benefit humans on Earth.

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NASA Weighs Options for Additional Crew Transportation for Spring Soyuz Mission to Space Station

Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft docking at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — A rotating crew of NASA and international astronauts have called the International Space Station home for more than 20 years. To ensure a consistent U.S. presence on the space station through the years, NASA has implemented safeguards to ensure crew transportation is always available. 

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SpaceX Dragon Capsule to Make First of Its Kind Science Splashdown

NASA astronaut and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins works inside the Life Sciences Glovebox conducting research for the Cardinal Heart study. The biomedical research seeks to help scientists understand the aging and weakening of heart muscles to provide new treatments for humans on Earth and astronauts in space. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — By capsule, helicopter, boat, plane, and car, space station science experiments are about to make a first of a kind journey back to researchers on Earth.

On Jan. 11, the SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft carrying out the company’s 21st commercial resupply services (CRS-21) mission for NASA undocks from the International Space Station, heading for splashdown off the coast of Florida about 12 hours later. This upgraded Dragon transports significantly more science back to Earth than possible in previous Dragon capsules and is the first space station cargo capsule to splash down off the coast of Florida.

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Russia Achieves Clean Launch Record for Second Year in Row

Soyuz-2 rocket lifts off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome with 36 OneWeb satellites. (Credit: Arianespace)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — The outgoing year 2020 has become a difficult test for the entire world marked by the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Many world economic players have encountered objective difficulties in the implementation of previously outlined plans.

Unfortunately, Roscosmos also had to correct a number of plans, including those related to launch activities. Nevertheless, Roscosmos management put the quality of production and the safety of personnel working at the Russian rocket and space industry enterprises and cosmodromes at the forefront.

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NASA Television to Air Departure of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus from Space Station

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter approaches the International Space Station where the Canadarm2 robotic arm is poised to capture it for docking. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Northrop Grumman’s uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to depart the International Space Station on Wednesday, Jan. 6, more than three months after delivering nearly 8,000 pounds of supplies,  scientific investigations, commercial products, hardware, and other cargo to the orbiting outpost.

Live coverage of the cargo spacecraft’s departure will begin at 9:45 a.m. EST on NASA Television and the agency’s website, with release of Cygnus scheduled for 10:10 a.m.

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NASA Perseveres Through Pandemic to Complete Successful 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.

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NASA Astronauts Hard at Work on Multiple Life Science Investigations Aboard the International Space Station

International Space Station (Credit: NASA/Roscosmos)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (CASIS PR) – On December 7th, a Dragon spacecraft loaded with thousands of pounds of critical supplies and research docked with the International Space Station (ISS), paving the way for an incredibly busy Expedition 64 dedicated to executing science on the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX’s 21st commercial resupply services (CRS-21) mission to the ISS brought with it a variety of life science investigations sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory that will be evaluated in the unique microgravity environment, intending to benefit patient care on Earth. Since Dragon’s arrival, the astronauts have been hard at work performing many of these investigations.

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NASA Names Artemis Team of Astronauts Eligible for Early Moon Missions

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 18 astronauts from its corps to form the Artemis Team and help pave the way for the next astronaut missions on and around the Moon as part of the Artemis program.

Vice President Mike Pence introduced the members of the Artemis Team Wednesday during the eighth National Space Council meeting at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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