21st Century Space Exploration

Nick Regier

International Space Station

While not being originally founded in the twenty first century, the International Space Station (ISS) was under major construction during the first decade of the 2000s. The astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS have done thousands of science experiments learning more about the human body, and other components needed for deep space travel. Something special about the ISS is that it is a international project from over 15 countries. This shows that if we work together as a species, we can conquer huge ideas that a country might struggle to do on its own. The ISS just recently surpassed 100,000 orbits around earth.These experiments will help us one day put a man on Mars, and eventually a colony.
ISS Assembly Time-Lapse Animation

Space Shuttle Columbia

In January of 2003, in what seemed to be a routine flight of the Space Shuttle, NASA's reusable spacecraft, the Columbia, disintegrated over Texas in its reentry. The cause was foam insulation falling off the external tank during launch, and hitting the wing of the space craft. Ripping apart some of the heat shield tiles on the wing, the space craft began reentry with a hole in their orbiter. In reentry heat and wind from the atmosphere entered the wing and tore it apart, disintegrating the space craft and the five men and two women aboard. This disaster put NASA on hold while they investigated the cause of the accident, which only brought back the Space Shuttle Discovery safer than ever before with maneuvers to combat it from happening again.
RARE! Space shuttle Columbia Explosion footage

Spirit & Oppurtunity

Launched January 2004, NASA robotic geologists were landed on opposite sides of the red planet. The primary mission of the pair of rovers was to search for different types of rocks and soils and classify them to try and find clues to previous water activity on Mars.While Spirit's mission ended in 2010, "Oppy" (Opportunity) is still rolling along on the red planet. Each rover was only expected to run for 90 days, and both rovers exceeded this length.


Curiosity is another Martian Rover from NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) which launched in 2011, had a similar goal than the Spirit and Oppy, but with a much wider range of tools. Being much larger than the twins, it had more room for instruments, like the robotic arm which is equipped with a drill so they can drill into martian rocks and collect samples. It is also equipped with better cameras then the previous rovers to enable scientist to see what the Martian surface looks like. Curiosity's main goals are to investigate the Martian geology and climate, investigate the role of water in the soil, and other studies in order to prepare us for future human exploration.

New Horizons

In January 2006, the New Horizons space craft launched aboard the Atlas V rocket. The New Horizons was a unmanned craft with the mission of exploring unknown parts of Pluto. A year after launch, New Horizons swung past Jupiter receiving a gravity boost, pushing forwards to Pluto. During the summer of 2015, it began a 6 month mission to learn about the icy planet. During this time, it sent back magnificent photos of the planet. After completing its Pluto mission, NASA has updated its mission to explore a distant belt of planets called the Kuiper Belt.
Big image

Downgrade of Pluto

In 2003, astronomers were looking at images of Pluto, and saw another object behind it. The object was larger than Pluto, which made him and others question what makes a planet a "planet." This group decided it would be better to call Pluto a dwarf planet, a small planet that does not have the size to attract space dust and small objects. This is essentially because Pluto is about half the United States wide, even smaller than our moon. This decision was controversial around the world, and is still questioned by people today.

Einstein's Gravitational Waves

In 1916, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves off of his general relativity. Gravitational Waves are ripples in space time that expel from a source, much like when you throw a stone in a pond and ripples are produced. Almost 100 years later, a group called LIGO detected those waves in September of 2014, from the merging of two black holes. This discovery was a huge leap from when Einstein merely predicted they existed, and shows the advance of technology in century.
Brian Greene Explains The Discovery Of Gravitational Waves


SpaceX, a private company,was founded in 2002 by CEO Elon Musk with the goal of enabling people to live on other planets. They started developing their rocket engine, the Merlin, and soon they were testing it with the Falcon. Their rocket they use now is a variation of this, having 9 engines, is called the Falcon 9. At the same time they were also developing the Dragon, their spacecraft. The Dragon was designed to take cargo to and from the ISS, with a manned version, Dragon V2, which is still in development and is planned to launch its first crew to the ISS in 2017. When this is done, it will be the first time a private company has ever transported astronauts to the station, and the first America will have since the Space Shuttle, which retired in 2010. In December of 2015, they made history by landing the first stage of their Falcon 9 on flat ground after launching a satellite into space. SpaceX is living proof that its not just governments who can be innovators in the race to get to mars, as they have plans to launch a dragon spacecraft to mars in 2018.
Historic Landing of Falcon 9 First Stage at Landing Zone 1

Works Cited

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"Gravitational Wave." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 May 2016.

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"International Cooperation." NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.

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NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.

"Opportunity (rover)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.

"Spirit and Opportunity." Spirit and Opportunity. NASA, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.

Tony Greicius, Tony. "Mars Rovers Overview." NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.