THIS YEAR @NASA: 2019 Proved to be Significant Year For Future of U.S. Space Exploration

By  //  December 24, 2019

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NASA's Biggest storylines of 2019

ABOVE VIDEO: Setting a bold goal in human space exploration with the Artemis program while celebrating Apollo’s historic first steps onto the Moon, and kicking off the 20th year of humans continuously living and working in space. Here’s a look back at those things and plenty more awesomeness that happened this year at NASA.

Moon to Mars

Our plan to return humans to the Moon with the Artemis program was adjusted – with 2024 now being the new target for landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface.

Our Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS initiative, selected commercial Moon landers to deliver science and technology demonstrations to the surface in 2021 that could pave the way for the arrival of astronauts.

One tech demonstration – known as VIPER – is a lunar mobile robot that will collect data on water ice to inform the first global water resource maps of the Moon.

We also talked to American companies about developing reusable lunar landers and systems for future human missions to the Moon.

And we selected a company to provide power and propulsion for our Gateway – an outpost to orbit around the Moon from which astronauts will shuttle to and from the lunar surface.

ABOVE VIDEO: NASA’s 2024 Artemis Moon Landing Mission Explained.

And when we do go, our Orion spacecraft, its European Space Agency-built service module, and our RS-25 engines and Space Launch System rocket will get us there. We made significant progress in 2019, building and testing these systems for our upcoming Artemis I uncrewed flight test.

And what’s a “next generation” mission without “next generation” spacesuits? Took care of that too in 2019 – with new spacesuits that fit better, and provide better mobility for astronauts exploring the lunar surface.

And from our Mars robotic explorers …

Humans in Space

It was a milestone year for humans in space – we began our 20th consecutive year with humans aboard the International Space Station, and conducted several important spacewalks – including the first ever by an all-woman team of spacewalkers …

A series of complex spacewalks to repair a cosmic ray detector …

And an outing to help install a new docking adapter to accommodate future arrivals of various spacecraft, including commercial crew spacecraft built by Boeing and SpaceX.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft made the first ever docking to the International Space Station during its uncrewed flight test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

ABOVE VIDEO: Inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Spacecraft.

Meanwhile, NASA and Boeing are learning lessons from the uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, which launched on December 20, but was unable to dock with the space station.

Five successful commercial cargo missions with Northrop Grumman and SpaceX delivered more than 32,000 pounds of science investigations, spacewalking tools, and critical supplies to the station.

A new policy was announced in 2019 making the space station available for commercial business ventures.

And, results from our landmark Twins Study of astronaut brothers Mark and Scott Kelly were published. Data from the study could help maintain crew health during exploration missions to the Moon and Mars.

Solar System and Beyond

Lots of happenings in our solar system and beyond. Our New Horizons spacecraft rang in the New Year with a record-breaking flyby of a Kuiper Belt object 4 billion miles from our Sun.

We announced a new mission to Saturn’s icy moon Titan to search for the building blocks of life.

Our SOFIA airborne observatory detected helium hydride – the first type of molecule to ever form in the universe – in a planetary nebula some 3,000 light-years away from us.

We helped capture the first ever image of a black hole and its shadow.

Data from our Hubble Space Telescope showed water vapor, for the first time, in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system that resides in the habitable zone.

Researchers hope to further study three new worlds discovered by our TESS spacecraft 73 light-years from Earth – a nearly Earth-size one, next to two others known as mini-Neptunes.

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The first data shared from super-close, record-breaking flybys of our Sun by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe revealed new insights into solar dynamics that can affect astronauts and technology in space.

And we air-launched a mission to help us better understand the physical processes at play in the ionosphere that are potentially detrimental to radio communications, satellites and the physical health of astronauts.

Space Tech

Highlights from the world of space technology include the launch of several NASA technology demonstrations aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The demonstrations are designed to test less toxic fuel for spacecraft, new ways to navigate in space, processes affecting space communications, and to look at the space environment around Earth and how it affects us.

Three free-flying robots sent to the space station on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft will help develop and test technologies for use in zero-gravity and do routine chores – so astronauts can do other important tasks.

Printed Habitat Challenge featured teams combining creativity and cutting-edge technology to manufacture sustainable shelters for use on exploration missions, including to the Moon and Mars.


We had another amazing year observing Earth from space. Cameras outside the International Space Station captured views of Hurricane Dorian – which reached category 5 status and devastated the northern Bahama Islands.

We used data from a Japanese satellite to produce a map for use by officials to assess damage from two strong earthquakes that rattled Southern California.

Our Earth-observing Terra satellite captured images of California’s devastating Kincade Fire. The blaze was fueled by nearly 100 mile per hour winds known as Diablo winds.

And a next-generation high resolution imaging suite sent to the space station to identify materials on Earth’s surface – whether they be natural or human-made – could be used for resource exploration, agriculture, forestry and other environmental areas.


In Flight, we continued groundbreaking research to help develop a new, improved global aviation system. This included our X-57 Maxwell aircraft, which uses an electric propulsion technology that could increase efficiency while decreasing emissions, and noise.

Meanwhile, our X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology project successfully completed in-flight testing of software and imaging technology that enables pilots to safely maneuver the skies without a forward-facing window.

And we conducted the final and most complex season of flight tests for our Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management project, or UTM – which seeks to integrate drones safely and efficiently into air traffic that is already flying in low-altitude airspace.


Our historic accomplishments were a big focus in 2019.  Our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission included a NASA TV special, and a series of other events around the country.

The historic Apollo Mission Operations Control Room was restored so that visitors can see the room exactly as it appeared during the Apollo Moon missions.

And we held a ceremony to rename the street in front of our Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to “Hidden Figures Way” – in honor of the women who performed vital math calculations in the early days of America’s space program.

Those are some of the highlights from 2019 – the year at NASA. For more details, visit Happy Holidays, thanks for watching, and we look forward to sharing more exploration and discoveries with you in 2020!