The first flight of Orion, delayed a day, successfully launched, orbited, and splashed down on Friday, December 5. Orion completed two orbits of the Earth, including one at a distance of 3600 miles, more than 15 times higher than the International Space Station orbits. This is the first time a spaceship designed for humans has traveled that far from Earth since the Apollo missions. A little over four hours after launch, Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
An Antares rocket exploded during launch at 6:22 EDT at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The unmanned rocket was meant to carry supplies to the International Space Station. Its launch was postponed from October 27 because a sailboat had entered the restricted area down range of the launchpad. Initial reports indicate that damage only occurred to the rocket and launchpad.
Three NASA spacecraft in orbit around Mars, the Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN, were sent signals to remain in orbit on one side of Mars while comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring passed within 88,000 miles of the planet. NASA feared that particles from the comet could endanger or damage the orbiters during the cometary flyby on October 20. The satellites were also used to gather data on the flyby, as were the rovers currently on the Martian surface.
NASA has signed contracts with SpaceX and Boeing for the companies to provide transportation for astronauts from the US to the International Space Station. Since July 2011, when Atlantis last docked with the ISS, astronauts have been flying to the ISS on Russian spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. SpaceX and Boeing will be ready for launch in 2017.
NASA engineer Jack Kinzler (b.1920) died on March 4. Kinzler built the full sized models of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft used in preflight tests and created the flags and plaques left on the Moon by Apollo astronauts. When the Skylab heatshield failed, Kinzler created a fix using fishing poles that meant the astronauts would not have to do a spacewalk.
Astronaut and author William Pogue (b.1930) died on March 4. Pogue joined NASA in 1966 and served on the support crews for three Apollo missions. He was scheduled to serve as Command Module Pilot for Apollo 19 before the mission was cancelled, instead serving as pilot for Skylab 4, the last Skylab mission. After he left the astronaut corps, Pogue wrote the book How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space? and co-authored the science fiction novel The Trikon Deception with Ben Bova.
On February 26, NASA announced the discovery of an addition 715 planets found by the Kepler space observatory. These 715 planets are in orbit around 305 distinct stars and NASA has said that four of the planets orbit in the Golidlocks zone, where life is possible. THe new planets join nearly 1,000 previously discovered extrasolar planets and are from data collected by Kepler between its launch in 2009 and 2011.
Mercury Astronaut Malcolm Scott Carpenter (b.1925) died on October 10. Carpenter flew reconnaissance missions for the Navy in Korea before being selected as part of the initial astronaut class by NASA. When Deke Slayton was grounded, Carpenter was moved forward in the flight rotation. He flew on Aurora 7 on May 24, 1962, the fourth American in space and the second to achieve orbit. His flight considered a success until the last moments when a mechanical problem caused him to splashdown 400 km beyond his planned landing zone. Two years later, he left NASA to join the Navy’s SEALAB program and, after leaving the Navy in 1969, he founded Sea Sciences, Inc. to help develop products from the oceans. Prior to his own flight, Carpenter uttered the phrase “Godspeed, John Glenn” just before Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule was launched. Glenn is now the only living member of the Mercury 7.
In Heinlein’s 1956 novel Time for the Stars, he described an experiment in which one identical twin was sent on a space mission while the other stayed at home. NASA has now announced that it will be using a set of twins to examine the effects of prolonged space flight on the human body. Astronaut Scott Kelly, veteran of two shuttle missions and a former ISS Commander, will spend a year aboard the ISS for NASA longest spaceflight ever. His brother, Mark Kelley, who flew four shuttle missions, including as commander of Endeavour‘s final flight, will remain on Earth as the control. Scott Kelly is scheduled to join the ISS crew in March 2014.
Jeff Bezos has confirmed that the engines his team discovered on the ocean floor in March are in fact the engines which launched the Apollo XI to the Moon in 1969. His announcement, based on the discovery of part numbers at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, comes one day before the 44th anniversary of the first lunar landing, accomplished by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin using the engines Bezos has recovered.