THIS YEAR @NASA: It Was A Historic Year at NASA, Full of New Discoveries

By  //  December 26, 2020

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Delicious Digg This Stumble This

ABOVE VIDEO: 2020 was historic for NASA. We launched humans to the International Space Station from America again, made progress on our plans to return humans to the Moon and explore Mars, had an unprecedented encounter with an asteroid, and displayed perseverance and resilience in space and on Earth … all, while helping the country deal with a global crisis. Here’s a look back at highlights from those and other things we did this year at NASA.

(NASA) – 2020 was historic for NASA. We launched humans to the International Space Station from America again, made progress on our plans to return humans to the Moon and explore Mars, had an unprecedented encounter with an asteroid, and displayed perseverance and resilience in space and on Earth … all, while helping the country deal with a global crisis.

Here’s a look back at highlights from those and other things we did this year at NASA.

Banner: Response to Coronavirus

Early in the year, as the initial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic were being felt across the country, the NASA workforce stepped up to the challenge – developing innovative technologies including a ventilator prototype, an oxygen hood, and a device for sterilizing medical equipment.

Jim Bridenstine / NASA Administrator:
“NASA is an amazing little agency that does astonishing things every day.”

And, “astonishing” is a good way to describe the mission-critical work NASA continued and accomplished in 2020, in spite of the challenges.

Banner: Humans in Space

Launch Commentator:
“Liftoff of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon. Go NASA. Go SpaceX. Godspeed Bob and Doug!”

It was a landmark year for humans in space – and for how we get them there. Our SpaceX Demo-2 test flight to the International Space Station was the first human space mission to launch to the station from America since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

That was followed by the first commercial crew rotational flight to the station – carrying four astronauts aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft named, “Resilience.”

November marked the 20th year of humans continuously living and working aboard the space station …

… with one station astronaut, Christina Koch, wrapping up a record 328-day stay on the orbital outpost – the most time spent in space on a single mission by any woman.

Meanwhile, astronauts Bob Behnken and Chris Cassidy each completed record-tying 10th spacewalks on the same outing in July …

… and we graduated the first class of astronaut candidates for future missions to the station, the Moon, and Mars, and accepted more than 12,000 applications for the next class of Artemis Generation candidates.

Banner: Moon to Mars

It was a big year for our Artemis plans, capped off in December with the introduction of 18 astronauts that will help pave the way for human missions on and around the Moon, including landing the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.

Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States):
“My fellow Americans, I give you the heroes of the future who will carry us back to the Moon and beyond …”

We continued testing the Space Launch System or SLS rocket’s core stage for Artemis I with the Green Run test series to verify the core stage is launch ready for 2021.

Teams began stacking the SLS solid rocket boosters, and practiced rollout with the mobile launcher that will be used for the flight.

And after rigorous environmental testing, we began final preparations on our Orion spacecraft for the uncrewed Artemis I mission. Artemis I is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon that will ultimately lead to human exploration of Mars.

In October, NASA and 7 partner countries signed the Artemis Accords for international participation. An 8th partner joined later.

We finalized agreements with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency to collaborate on our Gateway lunar outpost.

We worked with private industry on Artemis – selecting three U.S. companies – Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX – to design and develop human lunar landing systems.

We also selected SpaceX to be the first U.S. company to deliver experiments and other critical cargo to the Gateway.

We announced the first scientific investigations for the Gateway will be a study on solar particles and solar wind, and one on how to keep astronauts safe from radiation.

We made multiple task order awards and payload assignments as part of our Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, initiative to work with American companies to send science and technology to the lunar surface.

We selected Astrobotic to send a golf cart-sized robot called VIPER to the Moon’s South Pole in search for water. And solicited bids from CLPS partners to fly a suite of science and technology payloads to the Moon in 2022.

Banner: Solar System and Beyond

We had a steady stream of groundbreaking science missions in 2020.

Mission Controllers confirming touchdown:
“And we have touchdown! Touchdown declared! (applause and cheering)”

October saw a first for the agency, when our OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touched asteroid Bennu and collected sample material. When it is returned to Earth, we hope the ancient material teaches us more about the origins of the solar system.

Launch Countdown:
“And liftoff … as the countdown to Mars continues.”

We launched the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter on our Mars 2020 mission. Both named by students – Perseverance will be the first Mars rover to collect samples for future return to Earth, while Ingenuity will be the only aircraft to attempt flight on another world.

We teamed with the European Space Agency on the Solar Orbiter mission that will provide the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles, and unique insight into how the Sun affects the space environment.

The SOFIA flying observatory confirmed, for the first time, the existence of water molecules on the sunlit surface of the Moon.

We identified a molecule in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan that has never been detected in any other atmosphere. This could point to the presence of more complex compounds there that are favorable to life.

And we celebrated 30 years of our Hubble Space Telescope, which continues to enhance our understanding of the cosmos and, quite literally, our view of it.

Banner: Space Tech

NASA space technology in 2020 helped to advance future exploration, science and aeronautics capabilities, and benefit life on Earth.

A NASA-developed sensor suite that could help robotic and crewed missions make precise, soft landings on the Moon was launched on a Blue Origin suborbital rocket.


We continued developing two instruments to study using lunar resources. MSolo and TRIDENT will conduct chemical analysis and drill for resources, respectively.

A NASA project is making gears housed inside a “metallic glass” material that can withstand the extreme cold on the Moon without being heated to keep them operational.

We announced 20 partnerships to mature U.S. industry-developed space technologies for the Moon and beyond, including a 3D printing system for Artemis, testing of a simple method to remove dust from planetary solar arrays, and more.

Our Green Propellant Infusion Mission successfully proved that space missions can use less toxic fuel for future missions.

And for the first time, an experiment that bounces a laser beam from Earth off a reflector the size of a paperback book that is mounted on our Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, received a signal back. This could enhance laser experiments used to study the physics of the universe.

Banner: Earth

NASA and partner agencies observing our home planet witnessed record-breaking activity in 2020.

The Atlantic hurricane season produced 30 named storms – the most ever on record – with 13 of those reaching hurricane status.

Meanwhile, a devastating wildfire season in the western part of the country saw more than 3 million acres burned in California alone. NASA instruments on spacecraft, satellites and aircraft provided data to responding agencies …

… including satellite imagery showing smoke and unhealthy aerosols from the fires drifting toward the eastern part of the country.

Launch Commentator:
“And liftoff …”

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite launched in November. It is the first of two identical satellites scheduled to make global sea level observations for at least the next decade.

We helped you celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day virtually with the hashtag #EarthDayAtHome, and online videos, activities, and other resources available in both English and Spanish.

And people around the world helped us map out coral reefs by playing a video game that uses specialized instruments to capture 3D images that a NASA supercomputer then uses to map out reefs at unprecedented resolution.

Banner: Flight

We continued our research in the skies aimed at helping the aviation industry operate traditional and next-generation aircraft more safely and efficiently.

The wing and cockpit sections of our X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft began taking shape.

The plane also received its one-of-a-kind engine. The X-59 is being developed to create a low-noise sonic boom that can barely be heard – if at all – by people on the ground.

We made significant progress developing the X-57 Maxwell, our first all-electric experimental plane, with testing of the high-aspect ratio wing, the electric cruise motors, and the propeller assemblies.

A pair of NASA research projects flew as part of Boeing’s 2020 ecoDemonstrator program that could lead to quieter, more fuel efficient future aircraft, and fewer operational flight delays.

**Credit: Bell Textron Inc.**

We continued our research efforts to develop an air transportation system for revolutionary new aircraft, including using a remotely piloted aircraft to simulate an urgent medical transport mission.

And we used augmented reality software that could make useful information about drones and other aerial vehicles more widely available to airspace operators.

Banner: Benefits to You

Whether it’s advancing space exploration, making scientific discoveries, or any of the other amazing things we do year in and year out, NASA does what it does to benefit you. Here’s a few more examples from 2020.

In the midst of stay-at-home recommendations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we compiled a NASA at Home online resource to help you stay engaged and explore the universe around us.

A computer simulation was used to show that fewer amounts than usual of some pollutants were found in Earth’s atmosphere, due presumably to changes in human activity because of pandemic-related restrictions.

And a new traffic management project for emergency response aircraft looked at how drones might be used to help responders more safely and efficiently assist you during future disaster operations.

Those are some of the highlights from what NASA did in 2020. For more details, visit Thanks for watching. We wish you a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season, and look forward to sharing more NASA highlights with you in 2021!