Catching Up On This Season In Space


The International Astronomical U

This image shows an artist’s impression of the Solar System

Maximilian Looft, Author

When summer rolls by and students finally get those few sweet months of break, the learning mostly comes to a stop. While gone, the thought of space may have drifted off, but plenty has happened in the past few months. Those who care may want to be caught up again. It has indeed been a while, and there is plenty to report. 

Summer 2019 was an important time for recounting NASA’s greatest achievement. Starting July 16, celebrations began for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch and continued till July 20, 50 years after the first man stepped on the moon. Many air and space museums all over the country held events to commemorate the near impossible task. The week served as an important reminder to not forget our past deeds and to be assured that we can do them again.

Proving that we can, the plan for going back to the moon has finally gotten a name: Artemis. Artemis is the sister of Apollo (the name given to the previous Moon missions), the ancient Greek goddess of the moon and the hunt. Now that the mission has an identity, it makes it all the more real. The goal of getting humans back on the moon again, including the first woman, is still expected to be done by 2024, only five years from now. Establishing ourselves on the moon again will begin the next phase of our advance towards space: a gateway to Mars, our next milestone.

Speaking of Mars, the 2020 Rover is still inching toward its launch day. The rover is planned to launch aboard the Atlas V on July 17, 2020, and land on Mars less than a year later, on Feb. 18, 2021. As of now, the rover is still unnamed, but this fall students K-12 will be able to submit names for the rover. Its mission is still geared toward observing all types of soil to find possible evidence of previous life, as well as improving landing methods and identifying other resources. 

Beyond Mars, beyond the solar system, science has still been progressing. TESS (Transitioning Exoplanet Survey Satellite) has been hard at work for more than a year now, studying the sky to find as many exoplanets — planets outside of our solar system — as possible. At this point, TESS has found nearly a thousand possible planets and confirmed the existence of 29, according to NASA’s webpage on exoplanets. 

While NASA continues to push on, acting as a role model for many in these trying times, there are others who still serve as inspiration. SpaceX, well known for its ambitious goals, is still working on completing the Starhopper, the experimental version of their Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which could tie in with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). While the SLS has the goal of taking us back to the moon, SpaceX claims that the BFR will be the first ship to take people to Mars. 

Many, many things have happened over the past few months. Scientists learned about Marsquakes through InSight, NASA announced the Firefly flying rover to explore Saturn’s moon Titan, and Curiosity continued to explore Mars. Many feats were accomplished, many more are bound to happen in the future, and some of them might even involve us.