2019 has been a very exciting year for space-related events. Here we explore some of the most notable space missions of the past and explore the most notable and exciting space moments of this year.
Trust us when we say the events detailed below are far from exhaustive.
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What and when was the latest space mission?
We are living through an exciting and vibrant time in space exploration. Events are happening at a break-neck speed, and news change almost daily.
For this reason, any declaration of the "latest" space mission would quickly become redundant.
There are many current and in-development space missions by various private and public space agencies around the world. For up to date news on missions it is recommended you sign up to and follow each organization on social media and via their websites.
But, taking NASA as an example, their website is the best place to find the latest news of their ongoing and planned space missions.
What is the most important event in the history of space exploration?
This is something of a personal choice, but there are some very significant events in space exploration over time. Some notable milestones in our exploration of the heavens are as follows:
1. The very first satellite in space - In October of 1954, the Soviet Union launched humanity's first artificial satellite in history - Sputnik 1. This was not only a triumph for humanity in general but it almost single-handedly led to the creation of NASA.
2. The first human in space - Another amazing achievement by the Soviet Union. In 1961, cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin, onboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, became the first human in space.
3. The first lunar landing - In a classic game of one-upmanship, NASA pulled out all the stops to plant the very first human beings on the Moon. Apollo 11 stands as one of man's greatest technological achievements of all time.
4. The Hubble Space Telescope - Launched in April of 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has been a gift that keeps on giving. Offering unprecedented views of the universe around us, Hubble has led to many discoveries beyond all the hopes and dreams of its designers.
5. The first private spacecraft - In June of 2004, SpaceShipOne was designed and built by an aerospace development company known as Scaled Composites. Flown by a South-African born American, it actually managed to fly past the boundary of space.
This laid the foundations for the current explosion in private enterprises turning their hand to space exploration. As more and more private enterprises enter the market, humanity's future in space will undoubtedly get better, cheaper and more accessible to private citizens in the future.
What were the most exciting moments about space in 2019?
Here is a summary of the past and future events in all things space in 2019. A lot has happened this year and, as such, the following is just a hand-picked sampling of the most notable events of the year.
1. January 2019 - All about the Moon and Ultima Thule
On New Years Day of 2019, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft completed its journey to Ultima Thule. This was the furthest object that we've ever managed to visit in our Solar System.
Scientists pored over the first images received but will have to wait for a little longer for the rest of the probe's data to arrive on Earth.
China was also hoping to land its Chang'e-4 lander on the far side of the Moon in January. On the 4th of the month, all their hard work paid off with the lander touching down on the mostly unexplored side of the Moon.
The probe returned some interesting images and very exciting data for astrophysicists to sift through at their leisure.
2. February 2019 - Drilling Mars, failed Lunar landings and the Supermoon!
NASA's Mars Insight Lander's HP3 began drilling the Red Planet's surface at the beginning of the month. They plan was to reach about 5-meters in-depth to take important measurements on the internal surface temperature of the planet.
But, for some as yet unknown reason, it hit technical issues and couldn't penetrate beyond 30 cm in depth.
This month, Israeli private non-profit, SpaceIL launched their first Moon lander onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The team hoped to plant an Israeli flag and make some magnetic readings if they successfully completed their landing sometime in April of 2019 (more on this later).
The Moon itself also made a show for Earth-bound spectators this month. On the 19th of February, it passed closer to the Earth than usual to provide a Supermoon in the night's sky.
This same month, the Juno probe was planned to make a sweeping visit to Jupiter. True to form, the probe got some great images of the gas giant. Further flybys were also scheduled for May, July, and September of the same year.
Japan also made its attempt to collect samples from the asteroid Ryugu this month. The probe called Hayabusa2, successfully fired a pellet at the asteroid's surface to gather some of the asteroids material for analysis.
Further sampling attempts were planned for later in 2019.
3. March 2019 - SpaceX demonstrated their crew capsule, and Boeing's ISS-Crew Transport is delayed and delayed
In March, SpaceX launched and tested one of their crewed Dragon 2 spacecraft in the rigors of space. the craft, called Demonstration Mission 1 (DM-1), wasn't actually crewed but the data they gathered would guide future crewed flights.
After months of delay, it successfully reached orbit and made its way to the ISS.
Boeing also planned to test its brand-new CST-100 Starliner this month. The craft is currently under development to provide a vehicle to transport crews and materiel to the ISS.
Sadly it was plagued with delays and rescheduled for April. The test was to be uncrewed, and following its successful completion, a crewed test would be attempted in August of 2019.
This has since been revised again, with current estimates for an unmanned test flight in December of this year.
4. April 2019 - Tragedy for Israel's space program and NASA almost touch the Sun
April started out brilliantly with a close approach of NASA's Parker Solar Probe to the Sun. This followed other approaches in late 2018 and will not be the last for many years to come.
This month also spelled the end of a contract with Russia and NASA for delivering people and stuff to the ISS using their Soyuz spacecraft. This contract was established following the unfortunate retirement of their own Space Shuttle program in 2011.
For this reason, NASA has been busy working with Boeing and SpaceX to find an alternative logistics solution. But it was announced in February of 2019 that NASA may still consider using Russian Soyuz craft until alternatives are found.
April was not the best month for the team behind the Israeli gambit to put a probe of their own on the Moon. SpaceIL, a private venture, had teamed up with Elon Musk's SpaceX to attempt to plant an Israeli flag on the lunar surface.
Sadly, all contact was lost with the Beresheet lunar lander in the afternoon of April the 11th as it crashed into the Moon's surface. Despite the setback, the team is hoping to send a second Moon lander in the not too distant future.
Also this month, SpaceX had hoped to make a test flight of their Starship craft. "Starhopper" managed to perform a short, tethered, engine test leading to future plans for untethered testing later in the year.
SpaceX also successfully tested another of its Heavy Falcons this month. Not only was the launch a success, but they also managed to recover all three of its booster rockets.
5. May 2019 - A quite explosive month in space news
May was a quieter month for space exploration. But there were some notable events.
The first was the Eta Aquarid meteor shower on the 6th of May. This is a fairly regular event that peaks around early-May every year.
The meteors are actually debris leftover from Halley's comet when it passes close to Earth on its rare visits.
On a more dramatic note, SpaceX's Dragon Crew Capsule was confirmed to have exploded during another test this month. This was the very same capsule, DM-1, that had proved successful back in March of 2019.
Astronomers also released an interesting report on the recent asteroid impact on the Moon's surface this month. Leaving a crater about 15-meters wide, the collision was reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In other news, a rocket designed by a team of students from the University of Southern California (USC) Rocket Propulsion Lab (RPL) successfully launched a small rocket that reached the edges of space. The tiny 8-inch (20.3 cm) diameter, 13-foot (3.96 m) tall rocket, called Traveller IV, is the first student-designed craft to ever do so.
Towards the end of the month, an asteroid also made a 'close' approach to our beloved home planet. The mile-wide (1.6 km) rock with its own small moon, passed around 3.5 million miles from Earth.
Also this month, a Soyuz rocket was hit by lightning with no ill-effects on the 27th of May.
6. June 2019 - Strawberry Moon, salty waters on Europa, and an Earth-like exoplanet were discovered
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took some impressive images of Mars this month. Using it's High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), the orbiter captured images of an impressive and supposedly newly formed crater on Mars.
Also this month, NASA announced that their Curiosity rover had detected high levels of methane in the atmosphere of Mars. This sparked much debate about the likely source and potential for finding life.
By far, one of the most spectacular Space events this month was the Strawberry Moon. Many people around the world who were able to catch a glimpse were left awestruck around the world.
In the middle of June, a new study was released that pointed to the fact the Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, might have saltwater comparable to Earth's oceans under its icy crust. Using data from Hubble Space Telescope Imaging Spectograph (STIS) the team reported they've picked up the spectral signature of irradiated sodium chloride.
This month, SpaceX successfully launched another Falcon Heavy Rocket. What was different about this event was the fact that, for the first time, the company successfully resued one of their booster rockets from previous launches.
But it came at a cost. They failed to recover the central core unit.
Towards the end of June, scientists announced they had found an exoplanet that bears a striking resemblance to Earth. The CARMENES survey team announced that the planet that orbits Teegarden's star, the 24th closest star to our own, is only 12 light-years away.
Airing on the 29th of June, the "Apollo 11" documentary premiered on CNN. The film was edited and directed by Todd Douglas Miller and was compiled from hours of real NASA archive footage of this history-making event in human history.
7. July 2019 - "A Total eclipse of the... Sun!"
Earlier in the month, researchers revealed that there may be a way for black holes to form without the need for a collapsing star. The theory, called 'direct collapse' was proposed by two researchers at Western University in Ontario, Canada.
Also at the start of July, the first total eclipse of the Sun since 2017 was enjoyed by onlookers in South America. Parts of Chile and Argentina were treated to one of the most spectacular events the heavens have to offer.
Researchers also put to bed any notion that the now infamous 'Oumuamua asteroid was actually an alien spaceship. Much to the disappointment of many excited members of the public.
Deployed into space in late June, the Carl Sagan inspired LightSail2 solar sail spacecraft was reported to be operational and ready to deploy its innovative propulsion device (which it did later in July). If successful, this will provide a proof of concept for the tech for future applications.
In mid-July, a United Arab Emirates spy satellite failed to make it into orbit and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. It appears a serious rocket failure occurred only two minutes after liftoff.
The bad news was not exclusive to the UAE in July. The European Galileo GPS satellite system suffered a major outing in July too. Costing over 3 Billion Euros to date, a mysterious technical issue left Europe relying on American satellites until service was restored.
In late July, India also made its own attempt to launch a Moon lander and rover to the Moon. Called Chandrayaan-2, it had originally been planned for launch in January but was delayed for several months following technical issues.
8. August 2019 - Ultra-Massive black holes and the storming of Area 51 (sort of)
In early August, researchers revealed they had detected the highest energy photons ever recorded from the Crab Nebula. The team was unable to explain how they are created by the nebula, however.
Also in early August, NASA announced they had found a new "Hot Earth" exoplanet. The space agencies planet-hunting satellite Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, spotted the new planet as well as two others orbiting its parent star.
Also this month, an "Ultra-Massive" black hole was discovered in the universe. With an estimated mass of over 40 billion suns, this new black hole is one hell of a monster.
SpaceX's space-bound Roadster made it's the first orbit of the Sun this month. Launched onboard a Falcon Heavy rocket test in February of 2018, the Roadster has been a tour of our solar system over since.
It won't come close to Earth again until November 2020. We say close but it'll be somewhere in the order of 32.2 million miles (52.8 million km) away by then.
On the subject of SpaceX, a Chinese private space company, LinkSpace, also announced the third successful launch of its reusable rocket. The Beijing-based company reported it reached 300-meters in height before safely returning to its launchpad 50 seconds later.
Also on the subject of SpaceX, Elon Musk announced it might be a good idea to nuke Mars to prepare it for human settlement. Although it might sound a little gung-ho, there is some merit to his suggestion.
Back onto the subject of black holes, scientists revealed they had evidence of one swallowing a neutron star. The event appears to have occurred 900 million years ago, and must have been an impressive thing to have seen if you were close enough at the time.
On a lighter note, the hyped "Storm Area 51 Event" that was planned on the 20th September 2019, turned out to be a bit a flop. But it was fun to watch some of the attendees attempting to "Naruto run".
9. September 2019 - Lost and found and mega prizes galore
In September, SpaceX revealed its candidate landing sites for future Mars missions by the private space company. These sites appear to have been penciled in for their Starship once its development is complete.
Probably the main news event this month was the announcement of a million-dollar prize for the first image of a black hole. The team of eight at EHT split the £3 million prize between them.
On a completely different subject, researchers also announced they had made cement in space for the very first time. A recent series of experiments on the ISS discovered it was actually possible to get cement to solidify in microgravity.
India's Chandrayaan-2 arrives at the moon but contact was lost with its lander, called Vikram, creating serious doubts about the mission's success.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the team behind the apparently ill-fated Vikram Lunar lander did later announce that they had found it. The team was still unable to make contact, but they announced that it appeared to be operational and was expected to complete its planned 7-year mission.
Water vapor appears to have been discovered on an exoplanet for the first time, according to findings released in September. What's more, the exoplanet also appeared to be in the habitable zone of its parent star - - could it harbor life?
Our solar system was visited by another interstellar tourist in September. C/2019 Q4, believed to be a comet, was spotted by an amateur astronomer and got many stargazers very excited indeed.
Just at the close of the month, Elon Musk announced that he wants to put SpaceX's "Starship" into orbit within the next six months. Whether they can achieve it or not is anyone's guess.
10. October 2019 - Building blocks of life found on Enceladus and a new form of space propulsion revealed
There was some very exciting news earlier this month. Scientists announced that they had potentially discovered the existence of the basic ingredients for life on Saturn's moon Enceladus.
NASA also announced earlier this month that the Juno probe was ready to jump Jupiter's shadow. The maneuver was needed to prevent the probe's solar panels from being obscured by the gas-giant blocking the sun.
Astronomers announced they had found twin baby stars growing amongst gas and dust in October. The remarkable find sheds new light on the earliest phases of the lives of stars.
There was also some good news for people hoping to one day colonize the Moon. Oxygen and metal were found to be present in Lunar soil. Analysis of samples of regolith found that it was around 40-45% oxygen by weight.
A NASA engineer revealed information about a new form of propulsion that could achieve 99% the speed of light. Called an EmDrive, it requires no propellant and could prove to be the future of space exploration.
Scheduled for launch between October 15th and November 14th, the ESA plans to launch their own planet-hunting mission. Called CHEOPS (Characterising Exoplanets Satellite), it will look for planets orbiting bright stars close to our Solar System.
Uranus (don't, just don't) is also scheduled to make its closest approach to Earth this month. This will mean it will look a little bigger and brighter than usual.
11. November 2019 - The Moon will pass by Saturn and SpaceX hope to send a crewed mission to the ISS
On the 2nd of November, the Moon will pass in front of the ringed planet Saturn. skywatchers in New Zealand will get the best views but it should still be impressive from other locations around the Earth.
On the same day, Northrop Grumman will launch the Cygnus NG-12 cargo mission. It will resupply the ISS.
On the 11th of November, Mercury is set to transit the Sun as viewed from Earth. This won't happen again until 2039 so be sure to check it out.
If you are hoping to see this amazing event, make sure you use special equipment. It is, after all, extremely dangerous to look directly at the Sun.
Sometime in November, SpaceX is also planning to send its first crewed Crew Dragon mission to the ISS. This will be the Crew Dragon's first test flight with astronauts on board following the uncrewed DM-1 mission in March.
SpaceX will need to ensure any issues they've uncovered with DM-1's untimely explosion earlier in the year have been rectified.
12. December 2019 - Hayabusa set to return home, meteor storms and an annular eclipse on Boxing Day
During the festive season, Japan's Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is scheduled to depart the asteroid Ryugu and returning to Earth in December 2020. It will bring its valuable cargo of samples for rigorous analysis on Terra Firma.
December also means it's time for the Geminids meteor shower. This shower is caused by debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon.
On boxing day 2019, we will be treated to a rare annular solar eclipse. But only, that is, if you are in the right place at the right time. For an annular eclipse to happen, the Moon has to be at its furthest from the Earth, so it doesn't quite cover up the Sun.