WASHINGTON - From the Mars Ingenuity helicopter’s first powered flight on another world to the launch of the James Webb telescope that will peer into the earliest epoch of the Universe, 2021 was a huge year for humanity’s space endeavors. Beyond the science milestones, billionaires battled to reach the final frontier first, an all-civilian crew went into orbit, and Star Trek’s William Shatner waxed profound about what it meant to see the Earth from the cosmos, as space tourism finally came into its own. NASA’s Perseverance Rover survived its “seven minutes of terror,” a time when the craft relies on its automated systems for descent and landing, to touch down flawlessly on Mars’ Jezero Crater in February. Since then, the car-sized robot has been taking photos and drilling for samples for its mission: determining whether the Red Planet might have hosted ancient microbial life forms.

A rock sample return mission is planned for sometime in the 2030s.

With its state-of-the-art instruments, “Percy,” as the helicopter is affectionately known, can also zap Martian rock and chemically analyze the vapor. Percy has a partner along for the ride: Ingenuity, a four-pound (two kilogram) rotorcraft that in April succeeded in the first powered flight on another celestial body, just over a century after the Wright brothers’ achieved the same feat here on Earth, and has performed many more since. “Perseverance is sort of the flagship mission, it’s doing a long-term detailed investigation of this fascinating area of Mars,” Jonathan McDowall, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP.

By contrast, “Ingenuity, is one of these cute, small, cheap little technology demos that NASA can do so well,” he added.

The insights gained from Ingenuity could help scientists develop Dragonfly, a planned thousand-pound drone copter, to search for signs of life on Saturn’s moon Titan in the mid-2030s.

An American millionaire became the world’s first space tourist in 2001, but it took 20 more years for the promise of private space flight to finally materialize.

In July, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson faced off against Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos to be the first non-professional astronaut to complete a suborbital spaceflight. 

                  While the British tycoon won that battle by a few days, it was Blue Origin that raced ahead, launching three more flights with paying customers and celebrity guests.

But it was William Shatner, who played the swashbuckling Captain Kirk on the 1960s TV series “Star Trek,” who stole the show with a moving account of his experience. “What you’re looking down on is Mother Earth, and it needs protecting,” he told reporters. 

 A Russian crew shot the first feature film in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021, and Japanese tourists made their own visit there on a Russian rocket. 

  For a few minutes on December 11, there were a record 19 humans in space when Blue Origin carried out its third crewed mission, the Japanese team were on the ISS along with its normal crew, and Chinese taikonauts were in position on their station.

The sight of wealthy elites gallivanting in the cosmos hasn’t been to everyone’s liking, however, and the nascent space tourism sector triggered a backlash from some who said there were more pressing issues to face, such as climate change, here on Earth. 

During the Cold War, space was dominated by the United States and the former Soviet Union.  Now, in addition to the explosion of the commercial sector, which is sending up satellites at a dizzying pace, China, India and others are increasingly flexing their space flight muscles. 

https://www.nation.com.pk/05-Oct-2022/i-will-retire-on-completing-my-term-says-general-bajwa

                  

The proof-of-concept test is a dry run should humanity ever need to stop a giant space rock from wiping out life on Earth, as seen in Netflix’s new hit film “Don’t Look Up.”