NASA’s 2021 Achievements Included Mars Landing, First Flight, Artemis, More

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2021, NASA completed its busiest year of development yet in low-Earth orbit, made history on Mars, continued to make progress on its Artemis plans for the Moon, tested new technologies for a supersonic aircraft, finalized launch preparations for the next-generation space telescope, and much more – all while safely operating during a pandemic and welcoming new leadership under the Biden-Harris Administration.

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Hear Sounds From Mars Captured by NASA’s Perseverance Rover

This illustration of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover indicates the location of its two microphones. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Two microphones aboard the six-wheeled spacecraft add a new dimension to the way scientists and engineers explore the Red Planet.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Thanks to two microphones aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover, the mission has recorded nearly five hours of Martian wind gusts, rover wheels crunching over gravel, and motors whirring as the spacecraft moves its arm. These sounds allow scientists and engineers to experience the Red Planet in new ways – and everyone is invited to listen in.

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With First Martian Samples Packed, Perseverance Initiates Mars Sample Return Mission

This composite of two images shows the hole drilled by NASA’s Perseverance rover during its successful sample-collection attempt. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA, along with the European Space Agency, is developing a campaign to return the Martian samples to Earth.

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On Sept. 1, NASA’s Perseverance rover unfurled its arm, placed a drill bit at the Martian surface, and drilled about 2 inches, or 6 centimeters, down to extract a rock core. The rover later sealed the rock core in its tube. This historic event marked the first time a spacecraft packed up a rock sample from another planet that could be returned to Earth by future spacecraft.

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NASA’s Perseverance Sheds More Light on Jezero Crater’s Watery Past

The escarpment the science team refers to as “Scarp a” is seen in this image captured by Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument on Apr. 17, 2021. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

Pictures from NASA’s latest six-wheeler on the Red Planet suggest the area’s history experienced significant flooding events.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A new paper from the science team of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover details how the hydrological cycle of the now-dry lake at Jezero Crater is more complicated and intriguing than originally thought. The findings are based on detailed imaging the rover provided of long, steep slopes called escarpments, or scarps in the delta, which formed from sediment accumulating at the mouth of an ancient river that long ago fed the crater’s lake. 

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Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

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)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

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NASA Science Budget Request Fact Sheet

Europa Clipper in orbit around Europa. (Credit: NASA)

NASA FACT SHEET
FY 2022 Budget Request
Science
($ Millions)

NASA’s Science budget, managed by the Science Mission Directorate, includes five major science areas as well as the James Webb Space Telescope which is funded separately from Astrophysics. These areas include:

  • Earth Science to enhance understanding of Earth systems and to observe the effects of climate change. The Budget invests heavily in climate and applications research, begins formulation of the first four Designated Observable missions, and initiates the Earth System Explorers program (consistent with Decadal Survey recommendations). The Budget also supports the ongoing development of the Earth System Observatory including PACE, CLARREO Pathfinder, NISAR, SWOT, and Landsat 9.
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NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Extracts First Oxygen from Red Planet

Technicians at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lower the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The growing list of “firsts” for Perseverance, NASA’s newest six-wheeled robot on the Martian surface, includes converting some of the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. A toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) accomplished the task. The test took place April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed Feb. 18.

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Another First: Perseverance Captures the Sounds of Driving on Mars

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its onboard left Navigation Camera (Navcam). The camera is located high on the rover’s mast and aids in driving. This image was acquired on Mar. 7, 2021 (Sol 16). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s newest rover recorded audio of itself crunching over the surface of the Red Planet, adding a whole new dimension to Mars exploration.

As the Perseverance rover began to make tracks on the surface of Mars, a sensitive microphone it carries scored a first: the bangs, pings, and rattles of the robot’s six wheels as they rolled over Martian terrain.

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Perseverance Rover’s SuperCam Science Instrument Delivers First Results

Combining two images, this mosaic shows a close-up view of the rock target named “Yeehgo” from the SuperCam instrument on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. The component images were taken by SuperCam’s Remote Micro-Imager (RMI). To be compatible with the rover’s software, “Yeehgo” is an alternative spelling of “Yéigo,” the Navajo word for diligent. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/ASU/MSSS)

Data from the powerful science tool includes sounds of its laser zapping a rock in order to test what it’s made of.  

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The first readings from the SuperCam instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover have arrived on Earth. SuperCam was developed jointly by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and a consortium of French research laboratories under the auspices of the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The instrument delivered data to the French Space Agency’s operations center in Toulouse that includes the first audio of laser zaps on another planet.

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Welcome to ‘Octavia E. Butler Landing’ on Mars

Perseverance Rover landing site. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has named the landing site of the agency’s Perseverance rover “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” after the science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. The landing location is marked with a star in this image from the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

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NASA Awards Mars Ascent Propulsion System Contract for Sample Return

This illustration shows a concept of how the NASA Mars Ascent Vehicle, carrying tubes containing rock and soil samples, could be launched from the surface of Mars in one step of the Mars sample return mission. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS) contract to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation of Elkton, Maryland, to provide propulsion support and products for spaceflight missions at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Coupled with the successful touchdown of the Mars Perseverance rover, this award moves NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) one step closer to realizing Mars Sample Return (MSR), a highly ambitious planetary exploration program that will build upon decades of science, knowledge, and experience of Mars exploration.  

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Testing Proves Its Worth With Successful Mars Parachute Deployment

Video obtained by camera aboard the Mars 2020 spacecraft during parachute deployment on Feb. 18, 2021. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The giant canopy that helped land Perseverance on Mars was tested here on Earth at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

WALLOPS, Va. (NASA PR) — Test. Test again. Test again.

Testing spacecraft components prior to flight is vital for a successful mission.

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Was There Life on Mars? UK Scientists Play Key Part in NASA Mission to Red Planet

Panorama of Perseverance Rover’s landing site on Mars. (Credit: NASA)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — After a seven-month journey, NASA’s car-sized Mars Perseverance rover will make its final descent to the Red Planet to begin its search for traces of life.

The rover’s mission – backed by the UK government – is to explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse ancient environments on Mars. Supported by over £400,000 in funds from the UK Space Agency, researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will help to decide which samples are sent to Earth in a search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.

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What will Ancient Sedimentary Rock Tell us About the History of Life on Mars?

Panorama of Perseverance Rover’s landing site on Mars. (Credit: NASA)

Two Stony Brook professors involved in the Perseverance nission weigh In

STONY BROOK, NY, February 22, 2021 (Stony Brook University PR) — The new era of space exploration features two Stony Brook University faculty members as part of the development of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover that recently landed. Distinguished Professor Scott McLennan and Associate Professor Joel Hurowitz both worked on the PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) that is attached to the arm of the rover.

The PIXL is a micro-focus X-ray fluorescence instrument that rapidly measures elemental chemistry by focusing an X-ray beam to a tiny spot on the target rock or soil, analyzing the induced X-ray fluorescence. Both professors have been working on Mars missions with NASA since 2004.

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NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Provides Front-Row Seat to Landing, First Audio Recording of Red Planet

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — New video from NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover chronicles major milestones during the final minutes of its entry, descent, and landing (EDL) on the Red Planet on Feb. 18 as the spacecraft plummeted, parachuted, and rocketed toward the surface of Mars. A microphone on the rover also has provided the first audio recording of sounds from Mars.

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