As the decade ends, we find ourselves reflecting on the greatest achievements over the last ten years. Few organizations have achieved more than NASA, who has spent the last decade captivating the imaginations of the general public with stunning observations and gorgeous images that were previously impossible to capture. Technology evolved at an unprecedented pace during the 2010s, which has allowed NASA to pull off missions and observations that were impossible only a few years prior.
In order to celebrate the ending of a decade, we’d like to acknowledge five exceptional accomplishments of NASA over the last decade. Each of these accomplishments has brought us significantly closer to understanding the solar system.
The 2010s was the decade of exoplanets, which we now take for granted for the most part. However, when we first began discovering them in large numbers, it changed our concept of space. For those who are still unsure, exoplanets are small planetary bodies that orbit around stars. Prior to the start of the decade, less than 100 had been recorded. This led to NASA scientists wanting to study them more intently in order to understand how many exist, how they are formed and if there are any that exist that are larger than our own planet.
As a result of this curiosity, NASA funded the development of large telescopes that used advanced technology to record data regarding exoplanets. Since the beginning of the decade, several thousand exoplanets have been discovered, recorded and observed. They vary in terms of size, density and temperature.
#4: The Voyagers
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have been mainstays of space exploration for decades, but in the past ten years, they’ve accomplished more than most scientists ever expected. In 2012, Voyager 1 made headlines when it moved past the sun’s influence, which had never been accomplished before. It allowed scientists to study the galaxy in ways that were never possible in the past, as moving beyond the sun’s influence allows us to explore a part of the galaxy that is beyond what we’ve observed in the past.
Meanwhile, in 2018, Voyager 2 entered interplanetary space, a feat that had only taken place once prior. What was highly unique about these two celebrated missions was the fact that they both managed to return fascinating and important data to NASA’s scientists on Earth, giving us many clues into how the solar system works.
#3: More Women in Space
Who said that women can’t be astronauts? In the 2010s, NASA disproved that theory by launching more female astronauts than ever before. In 2013, half of the new class of NASA’s astronauts were women, showing that women are just as capable of withstanding space conditions as men. And, only this past year, NASA aimed to send two women on a historic spacewalk. We know that as NASA continues to evolve, we will see more women pulling off phenomenal space missions in the years to come.
#2: Reusable Rockets
If there’s one thing that’s as important to NASA as technological evolution, its efficiency, both in terms of cost and environmental impact. That’s why reusable rockets are so close to the end of our list. First, SpaceX began the development of reusable rockets that utilize vertical launching as a means to extend their lifespan. This allows the rockets to land vertically rather than having to go into the ocean. Additionally, these new reusable rockets utilize more efficient means of sustaining energy, allowing them to operate consistently throughout many missions.
Many failed missions utilizing these new reusable rockets took place until 2015, when the technology proved to be possible. However, this wasn’t the first attempt at creating a reusable rocket. In fact, NASA has bragging rights as their efforts date back to the 1970s. However, now, thanks to brilliant technological developments, we expect reusable technology to be a mainstay of NASA’s rockets in the coming years.
If there’s one thing that even casual space enthusiasts are aware of, it’s NASA’s current focus on Mars. Missions to Mars came about after developments showed that the planet may be inhabitable in the future. This led to several missions to Mars in order to record data regarding its environment, and how it compares to the one here on Earth. During these missions, NASA recorded an unprecedented amount of data regarding the big red planet, including its atmosphere’s makeup, its weather patterns and terrain. But, perhaps the most exciting was the discovery of Marsquakes, which were recorded as they happened, allowing us to learn new things about the planet.
The first Mars rover successfully landed and recorded data in 2012, although it seems like it’s been longer ago, as far more missions have successfully taken place on Mars since. Still, that first mission remains highly influential as it has inspired a new one that is to take place in 2020. Because of the success of all of these missions, NASA’s prioritization of Mars is far from over.
A Decade of True Excellence!
NASA has accomplished so much over the last ten years that coming up with just five notable achievements was nearly an impossible task. Of course, these accomplishments would not have been possible were it not for the massive leaps in technology that have been developed for space exploration in recent years. Now, we anticipate the new achievements that will take place in the decade to come.