Year Ender 2022: Artemis I To Webb’s First Full-Colour Images – Top NASA Accomplishments

Year Ender 2022: Artemis I To Webb’s First Full-Colour Images – Top NASA Accomplishments

NASA Accomplishments of 2022: The year 2022 was an important one for NASA because the space agency launched one of the most awaited missions of all time, Artemis I, and released the first full-colour images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the world’s most powerful telescope. NASA launched the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), as part of Artemis I. NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which was launched atop the SLS rocket, made its closest approach to the Moon at a distance of approximately 128 kilometres from the lunar surface. 

The space agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft made history by crashing into an asteroid in the world’s first planetary defence test. NASA launched several astronauts into space this year, as part of the Crew-4 and Crew-5 missions, and also safely brought back Crew-3 and Crew-4 astronauts to Earth. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) performed scientific research on cotton varieties that could help drought-resistant plants, explored the adverse effects of microgravity on astronaut hearing, and conducted a space archaeology study, among others. 

NASA’s LOFTID, or Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator demonstrated an inflatable heat shield technology that could be useful during human potential spaceflight missions to Mars in future.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement that 2022 will go down in the history books as one of the most accomplished years across all of NASA’s missions. 

Here are some of the most interesting NASA missions and feats accomplished this year.

December 2022

On December 21, 2022, NASA’s Perseverance rover placed the first samples on Mars. The location where the rover placed these samples is called “Three Forks”. Perseverance will deposit a total of 10 tubes at “Three Forks” over the next two months. 

The rover selects rock targets, from which it takes duplicate samples. Perseverance currently has 17 samples in its belly, and would deliver samples to a future robotic lander, which would be launched as part of the Mars Sample Return campaign. After collecting the samples from Perseverance, the lander will use a robotic arm to place the samples in a containment capsule aboard a small rocket that would be launched to Mars orbit. A spacecraft launched atop the rocket will capture the sample container and return it safely to Earth. 

In case Perseverance fails to deliver its samples, the sample depot, where the rover is placing samples, will serve as a backup. A pair of Sample Recovery Helicopters will be sent to Mars to collect the samples from the depot. 

On January 31, 2022, Perseverance collected a chalk-sized core of igneous rock, informally named “Malay”, from a region called “South Séítah” in Mars’ Jezero Crater. On December 21, the rover dropped this sample on the Martian surface. 

It took Perseverance’s complex Sampling and Caching System almost an hour to retrieve the metal tube containing the sample from inside the rover’s belly. After viewing the sample one last time with its internal CacheCam, Perseverance dropped the sample roughly three feet onto a patch of the Martian surface. 

After the sample was dropped, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory positioned the WATSON camera located at the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm to check if the tube had not rolled into the path of the rover’s wheels. Also, they wanted to ensure that the tube had not landed on the surface of the Red Planet in a way such that it was standing on its end, else it would become difficult to pick the sample up in the future. 

If this happens on Mars, a series of commands will direct Perseverance to carefully knock the tube over with its robotic arm.

On December 16, 2022, NASA and the French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) launched a satellite that would observe nearly all the water on Earth. Called the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft, the satellite has a prime mission of three years and will measure the height of water in freshwater bodies and the ocean on more than 90 per cent of Earth’s surface, providing insights into how a warming world affects lakes, rivers and reservoirs, how the ocean influences climate change, and how communities can better prepare for disasters such as floods. 

SWOT was launched atop a SpaceX rocket from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. 

NASA has released Webb’s first images of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. While the pictures were captured in November, NASA unveiled them in December. The only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere, Titan is also the only planetary body other than Earth that currently has rivers, lakes and seas. However, the liquid on Titan’s surface, unlike Earth, is composed of hydrocarbons including methane and ethane, not water. 

Also, Titan’s atmosphere is filled with thick haze that obscures visible light reflecting off the surface. 

According to NASA, a team of researchers compared different images captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), and confirmed that a bright spot visible in Titan’s northern hemisphere was in fact a large cloud. The researchers also noticed a second cloud. 

Researchers observed bright spots on Titan, which are prominent clouds in the moon’s northern hemisphere. Some of the prominent surface features observed are Kraken Mare, Belet and Adiri. Kraken Mare is thought to be a methane sea, Adiri is a bright feature and Belet is composed of dark-coloured sand dunes. 

November 2022

On November 16, 2022, NASA launched the world’s most powerful rocket as part of the Artemis I mission. Artemis I, the first uncrewed flight of NASA’s Artemis Program, took off from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 1:47 am EST (12:17 pm IST) on Wednesday. The SLS rocket blasted off into space with the uncrewed Orion spacecraft atop it. Artemis I was delayed multiple times due to reasons such as technical problems in the SLS rocket and hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

The Orion spacecraft completed a record-breaking mission as part of Artemis I, circling a path of more than 2.25 million kilometres around the Moon. The aim of Artemis I was to test Orion in the harsh environment of deep space before flying astronauts on Artemis II. 

Bill Nelson said that the splashdown of Orion, which occurred 50 years to the day of the Apollo 17 Moon landing, is the “crowning achievement” of Artemis I. 

Orion performed two lunar flybys during Artemis I, and came within approximately 128 kilometres of the lunar surface. The farthest distance from Earth travelled by Orion was nearly 2,70,000 miles (over 4,34,522 kilometres).

According to NASA, Orion stayed in space longer than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has done without docking to a space station. Orion surpassed the record for distance travelled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans, while it was in a distant lunar orbit. This record was previously set during Apollo 13. 

ALSO READ | Artemis I: NASA’s Orion Returns To Earth. Know What’s Next

The first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems, Artemis I will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration. The Orion spacecraft, SLS rocket, and the ground systems at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are the US space agency’s deep space exploration systems. 

The Artemis project, the first human moon mission since 1972, aims to carry the first woman, and the first person of colour to the Moon, by 2024. 

The first spaceflight that landed humans on the lunar surface was Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, and the last one was Apollo 17 on December 11, 1972.

Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon in Greek Mythology, after whom NASA’s upcoming Moon mission has been named, was the twin sister of Apollo. 

The objective behind the Artemis Mission is that it will enable NASA to demonstrate new technologies on the Moon, which will pave the way for future exploration of Mars. 

The Artemis Mission has three stages, Artemis I, II, and III. 

NASA’s massive SLS rocket and Orion Space Capsule will carry astronauts into lunar orbit. From there, SpaceX’s Human Lander System (HLS) will ferry the astronauts to the Moon’s icy south pole. 

Artemis I demonstrated the performance of both Orion and SLS and tested NASA’s capabilities to orbit the Moon and return to Earth. The first uncrewed test flight of the Artemis Program will pave the way for future missions to the lunar vicinity, including landing the first woman and the first person of colour on the surface of the Moon. 

The objective of Artemis I was to set the stage for human exploration into deep space, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the Moon needed for lunar exploration missions and to other destinations farther from Earth, including the Red Planet.

In November, researchers discovered two of the farthest and earliest galaxies in the universe using Webb’s observations

The “unexpectedly rich realm of early galaxies” has been largely hidden until now, beyond the reach of other telescopes, the University of California, Santa Cruz, says on its website. Webb has discovered two exceptionally bright galaxies that existed approximately 350 and 450 million years after the Big Bang. These and other observations are making astronomers believe that an unusual number of galaxies in the early universe were much brighter than expected.

In November, Webb revealed the first molecular and chemical profile of an exoplanet, gas giant WASP-39 b. Webb’s observations provide a full menu of atoms, molecules and even signs of active chemistry and clouds on the exoplanet atmosphere.

Webb has detected sulphur dioxide in WASP-39 b. This marks the first time sulphur dioxide has been detected in an exoplanet atmosphere. This molecule is produced from chemical reactions triggered by high-energy light from the planet’s parent star. The protective ozone layer in Earth’s upper atmosphere is created in a way similar to the generation of sulphur dioxide in WASP-39 b.

In November, Webb resolved faint stars in the nearby dwarf galaxy Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte

The galaxy is located near the Milky Way. WLM is our galactic neighbour and located three million light-years away from Earth. 

Also, the dwarf galaxy is antisocial, which means it has not interacted with nearby galaxies. According to NASA, WLM is ‘old school’, which means it has a chemical makeup similar to early universe galaxies. As a result, WLM is an ideal candidate to study how stars in the early universe may have formed and evolved.

October 2022

Webb captured some spooky images of the cosmos, which NASA revealed in October, the Halloween month. One of these is a haunting portrait‘ of the Pillars of Creation. The picture looks like an ethereal landscape of time-forgotten tombs and soot-tinged fingers reaching out. The pillars of gas and dust enshroud stars that are slowly forming over many millennia. Webb’s image is an eerie, extremely dusty view of the Pillars of Creation in mid-infrared light.

The Pillars of Creation are located in the vast Eagle Nebula, 6,500 light years from Earth.

The image, captured by Webb’s MIRI, shows interstellar dust, setting a sombre, chilling mood. Mid-infrared light specialises in detailing where dust. Stars are not bright enough at these wavelengths to appear. Instead, leaden-hued pillars of gas and dust shine brightly at their edges, hinting at the activity within. The Pillars of Creation have been formed by thousands of stars. 

In October, Webb made an astonishing discovery on cosmic objects from the early universe. The telescope found a cluster of massive galaxies in the process of forming around an extremely red quasar

The discovery is important because it will help researchers better understand how galaxy clusters in the early universe came together and formed the cosmic web or knot, a network of filaments which astronomers believe forms the basis of the universe. 

On October 5, 2022, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission launched four humans towards the ISS. 

NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and John Cassada, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina blasted off into space on October 5 at 9:30 pm IST, for a six-month mission at the orbital laboratory.

They were launched aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Crew-5 mission is the fifth crew rotation mission with SpaceX to the ISS, and the sixth flight of Dragon spacecraft with people as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The experiments they are working on include scientific research in cardiovascular health, fluid behaviour in microgravity and bioprinting. These investigations will help prepare humans for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and benefit life on Earth.

ALSO READ | All About NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 Mission 

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts returned to Earth on October 14, 2022, after spending almost six months in orbit. Crew-4 included NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. 

During their six-month stay on the orbital outpost, Crew-4 conducted several science experiments and technology demonstrations that are helping to prepare humans for future space exploration missions.

Crew-4 worked on experiments on space diet, analysed the possible adverse effects of microgravity on astronaut hearing, and studied whether additives increase or decrease the stability of emulsions. 

ALSO READ | A Glimpse Into The Scientific Journey Of Crew-4 In Space

In October, Webb captured the “tree rings” from a rare type of star system, a first in astronomy. 

September 2022

In September, NASA’s DART made history by crashing into an asteroid, marking the successful completion of the world’s first planetary defence test. DART successfully collided with asteroid Dimorphos at around 4:44 am IST on September 27. The spacecraft’s DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for optical navigation) instrument captured images of Dimorphos as DART approached the asteroid. Moments before the crash, DRACO imaged the rocky terrain of Dimorphos, which is a football-sized asteroid. 

Dimorphos, which is a part of a binary, near-Earth asteroid system called Didymos, posed no threat to Earth. DART demonstrated a first-of-its-kind planetary defence technique by deflecting Dimorphos. This is the world’s first mission to test technology for defending Earth against potential asteroid or comet hazards.

In September, NASA’s Juno spacecraft made its closest approach to Earth, at a distance of 352 kilometres, and captured the highest-resolution photograph of the Julian moon Europa.

Juno’s image reveals a detailed view of Europa’s heavily fractured icy crust. It shows a region crisscrossed with a network of fine grooves and double ridges, which are pairs of long parallel lines indicating elevated features in the ice.

Webb revealed the bones” of a spiral galaxy called IC 5332, which lies 29 million light-years from Earth.

In September, NASA unveiled Webb’s images of Neptune, its rings, and seven of its moons. The image gives the ‘clearest’ view of Neptune’s rings in decades. 

The crisp view of the ice giant’s rings is breathtaking. The last time Neptune’s rings were detected was in 1989, when NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft became the first spacecraft to observe the ice giant during its flyby. 

In September, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin were launched into space. They blasted off into space aboard the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. About three hours after launch, the Soyuz spacecraft docked into the Rassvet module of the space station. 

A few days after reaching the ISS, the trio became a part of Expedition 68. After the arrival of Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin at the space station, the number of people living on the space station reached 10.

In September, Webb captured its first images and spectra of Mars, providing everyone with interesting details about the Red Planet. Webb’s home, the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 2, is a unique observation post located nearly a million miles away from Mars. 

The post provides Webb a view of Mars’ observable disk, which is the portion of the sunlit side facing the telescope, as a result of which the observatory can capture images and spectra with the spectral resolution needed to study short-term phenomena like dust storms, seasonal changes, and weather patterns. Using Webb’s images, scientists can study, in a single observation, the processes that occur at different times of a Martian day.

In September, NASA announced that the space agency successfully tested a portable medical diagnostic device aboard the ISS that will help astronauts monitor their health by evaluating their physical condition. Experts from NASA’s Human Research Program’s Exploration Medical Capability (ExMC) team, in a recent technology demonstration, successfully tested the Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Laboratory Technology for Humans (rHEALTH) ONE biomedical analyser. This is a portable device that uses laser technology to diagnose illness or injury.

In September, NASA announced that astronomers have narrowed down the timeline of a stellar explosion by combining data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray, Hubble Space Telescope, and the retired Spitzer Space Telescope. This is a major achievement because it is often difficult to determine the timeline of the star’s demise, unlike the debris from exploded stars in the Milky Way galaxy and nearby galaxies, which can be seen relatively easily. A team of astronomers studied the spectacular remains of a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbouring galaxy to the Milky Way, using NASA telescopes. This helped the astronomers find enough clues to “wind back the clock” for the supernova.

In September, Webb captured young stars in a stellar nursery called Tarantula Nebula. Also known as 30 Doradus, the nebula is popular among astronomers studying star formation.

Webb, the most powerful space telescope in the world, has unveiled a cosmic creation by imaging ‘never-before-seen young stars’ in the Tarantula Nebula, according to NASA. The telescope has also captured distant background galaxies and the detailed structure and composition of the stellar nursery’s gas and dust.

The Tarantula Nebula is located 1,61,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy. The nebula is the largest and brightest star-forming region in the Local Group, the galaxies nearest to our Milky Way galaxy.

NASA Perseverance rover’s lunch box-sized instrument ‘MOXIE’ is reliably producing oxygen on Mars, a study published in September reported. MOXIE, which stands for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Equipment, is the first demonstration of in-situ resource utilisation on another planet. 

The Perseverance rover, launched as part of the Mars 2020 mission, landed on the Red Planet in February 2021. About two months after touching down on the Martian surface, MOXIE started generating oxygen from the Red Planet’s carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere. The instrument is performing the work of a small tree.

NASA unveiled Webb’s first direct image of an exoplanet. The exoplanet does not have a rocky surface, and is not habitable, because it is a gas giant. 

Webb imaged the exoplanet HIP 65426b using four different light filters. The image shows how Webb’s powerful infrared gaze can capture worlds beyond our solar system.

August 2022

ESA and NASA released satellite images of flood-hit Pakistan, which show the devastating impact of the deluge in the country. 

NASA’s Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 captured false-colour images of the flooding in Pakistan on August 4 and August 28, respectively. The Operational Land Imagers aboard the Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 satellites captured these images. According to NASA Earth Observatory, the images combine shortwave infrared, near-infrared, and red light of certain bands to better distinguish flood waters beyond their natural channels. The flood waters have been represented in deep blue.

On August 5, South Korea launched its first lunar orbiter atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Florida. The Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), nicknamed ‘Danuri, is South Korea’s first Moon mission. 

NASA released a breathtakingly beautiful image of the Cartwheel Galaxy captured by Webb. The image reveals interesting details about star formation in the Cartwheel Galaxy, and also the black hole located at the galaxy’s centre. 

NASA has described the chaos in the Cartwheel Galaxy as ‘Stellar Dynamics‘. 

July 2022

In July, NASA released the largest-ever image assembled of the Andromeda galaxy in brilliant clarity. The image, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope seven years ago, shows a 48,000-light-year-long stretch of our nearest major galactic neighbour. The Andromeda galaxy is a spiral galaxy located about 2.5 million light-years from Earth. 

Lunar ‘Pits‘ have shaded locations that always harbour a comfortable temperature of around 17 degrees Celsius, NASA-funded scientists have found. They made this discovery using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft and computer modelling.

These shaded regions may lead to pits and caves.

Surface regeneration takes place a lot quicker on asteroids than on Earth, scientists from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission have found. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has captured high-resolution images of the asteroid Bennu. The team of scientists analysed the rock fractures visible on the asteroid from the images, and discovered that the Sun’s heat fractures rocks on the asteroid in just 10,000 to 100,000 years. In other words, the Sun’s heat speeds up ageing and weathering on asteroids like Bennu.

Heat waves swept across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa in June and July 2022. The temperatures in many regions soared above 40 degrees Celsius.

In July 2022, NASA released images of heat waves and fires across Asia, Europe and Africa, obtained by combining observations made using a version of the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) global model. 

NASA released the first five full-colour images captured by Webb, on July 12. The world’s most powerful space telescope has captured the image of a galaxy cluster as it appeared billions of years ago, detected the presence of water on an exoplanet, revealed exceptional details of the ‘Eight-burst Nebula’, shed light on galaxy evolution and black holes, and unveiled ‘Cosmic Cliffs’ in the Carina Nebula.

The President of the United States, Joe Biden, unveiled the deepest and the sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date. This was the first full-colour image to be released from Webb. 

ALSO READ | Cosmic Cliffs, Dancing Galaxies – What NASA Webb’s First Full-Colour Images Tell Us About The Cosmos 

NASA quietly released two more Webb images. These are the images of Jupiter, the Jovian moons Europa, Thebe and Metis, and the gas giant’s ring. The pictures were captured while Webb was being tested, and have been provided in the JWST commissioning report.

Webb’s full-colour images reveal several secrets about the cosmos.

June 2022

A rocket body collided with the Moon in March this year. The object was observed to be heading toward a lunar collision rate last year. 

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted a crater — which is actually two craters — on the Moon, resulting from the impact that occurred on March 4. The fact that the rocket body has left behind a “double crater” indicates it was not the average rocket. Since the crash landing of the rocket, none of Earth’s space-exploring nations have claimed responsibility for the mysterious projectile. This has left NASA scientists baffled as to who was behind the launch.

ALSO READ | ‘Mystery Rocket’ That Collided With Moon Created Two Craters On Lunar Surface: NASA

NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) was launched into space on June 28, atop Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand. CAPSTONE is a CubeSat that will provide data about operating in an elongated orbit called a near rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO. 

The microwave oven-sized CubeSat will serve as a pathfinder for Gateway, a Moon-orbiting outpost that is part of NASA’s Artemis program, and will help reduce risk for future spacecraft by exploring the dynamics of the halo-shaped orbit. 

In November 2022, CAPSTONE completed its final manoeuvres to reach its target orbit around the Moon. CAPSTONE, which is now in the operational phase of its pathfinding mission, will test an orbit key to future Artemis missions. The CubeSat will demonstrate new technologies for spacecraft operating near the Moon. 

CAPSTONE is designed to prove the reliability of new capabilities so that they can be used in future missions, and is the first spacecraft to fly in a NRHO, and the first CubeSat to operate at the Moon. Gateway will also be placed at NRHO. For at least six months, CAPSTONE will gather data to support Gateway’s operational planning. 

In June this year, Hubble captured the largest near-infrared image ever. This will enable astronomers to map the star-forming regions of the universe and learn about the origin of the earliest, most distant galaxies. The image was recently released by an international team of scientists.

The high-resolution survey, called 3D-DASH, will allow researchers to find rare objects and targets for follow-up observations with Webb during its decades-long mission.

May 2022

Since mid-March, a relentless heat wave has blanketed India, and its neighbouring country, Pakistan. This has resulted in dozens of deaths, fires, increased air pollution, and reduced crop yields. NASA’s Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station instrument (ECOSTRESS) has been measuring these temperatures from space, at the highest spatial resolution of any satellite instrument.

The instrument took an image shortly before local midnight on May 5, which covers about 4,800 square miles, and shows urban areas and agricultural lands northwest of Delhi that are home to about 28 million people.

Due to human activities and the materials used in the built environment, cities are usually markedly warmer than the surrounding countryside. The image released by NASA clearly delineates these urban “heat islands.” 

ALSO READ | EXPLAINED: NASA Detects Heat Islands Around Delhi Amid Extreme Heatwave. Know What It Is All About

According to NASA, nighttime temperatures in Delhi and several smaller villages were above 95 degrees Fahrenheit or 35 degrees Celsius, peaking at about 102 degrees Fahrenheit or 39 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, the rural fields nearby had cooled to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees Celsius. This implies that people living in the city are experiencing considerably higher temperatures than the average temperatures reported for their regions. 

NASA’s instrument, ECOSTRESS, measures the temperature of the ground itself, which is very similar to air temperature at night. During the day, the ground may be warmer than the air. Though the primary mission of ECOSTRESS, which was launched to the space station in 2018, is to identify plants’ thresholds for water use and water stress, the instrument also records other heat-related phenomena, like the heatwave. 

The instrument’s high-resolution images have a pixel size of about 225 feet by 125 feet. These images serve as a powerful tool for understanding aspects of the weather event that might be overlooked by traditional observation networks, NASA said on its website.

April 2022

Four astronauts were launched towards the ISS on April 27, as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission.

A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Jessica Watkins, and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 3:52 am EDT (1:22 pm IST) on April 27, from the historic Launch Complex 39-A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

Crew-4 reached the ISS about 16 hours after launch. SpaceX Crew Dragon Freedom, carrying the Crew-4 astronauts, docked automatically into the space station on April 27 at 7:37 pm EDT (Thursday, April 28 at 5:07 am IST), NASA said in a mission update. 

Lindgren, Hines, Watkins, and Cristoforetti joined the Expedition 67 crew which included NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Korsakov, and Denis Matveev.

In April, Hubble confirmed the size of the largest icy comet nucleus ever seen by astronomers. The diameter is estimated to be approximately 80 miles across. 

Hubble confirmed that the nucleus is bigger than the US state of Rhode Island. 

Houston-based aerospace firm Axiom Space launched humans to space for the first time on April 8, as part of the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1). This is Axiom Space’s first crewed mission to space, and also the first all-private astronaut mission to the ISS. 

SpaceX launched a four-member crew consisting of three paying passengers and a retired NASA astronaut to the space station, as part of the mission. The crew blasted off into space aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, atop a Falcon 9 rocket. 

ALSO READ | What Is Ax-1?

The Ax-1 crew consisted of former NASA astronaut and Axiom’s vice president of business development Michael López-Alegría, American technology entrepreneur, aerobatics aviator and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, and Israeli impact investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe. 

March 2022

In March, Hubble detected the farthest individual star ever seen to date. The star, called Earendel, existed within the first billion years after the universe’s birth in the big bang.

The star is at a distance of 28 billion light years from Earth. The light from Earendel has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, and appeared to astronomers as it did when the universe was only seven per cent of its current age. 

The study, describing the discovery, was published in the journal Nature, on March 30.

With a natural phenomenon known as ‘gravitational lensing’, astronomers from the Cosmic Dawn Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and the National Space Institute at the Technical University of Denmark were able to detect Earendel at a distance where even detecting entire galaxies is challenging.

On March 30, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth after completing 355 days in space. It was a mission spanning 5,680 orbits of Earth. Vande Hei broke the previous record held by retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, by 15 days. 

Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, who served as Expedition 66 Flight Engineers on the ISS, also returned to Earth, along with Vande Hei. Dubrov also completed 355 days in space. 

In March this year, NASA confirmed the existence of more than 5,000 exoplanets. The cosmic milestone represents a 30-year journey of discovery led by NASA space telescopes. 

The exoplanets confirmed by astronomers are only a fraction of the likely hundreds of billions in the Milky Way galaxy.

February 2022

In February this year, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured its first visible light images of the surface of Venus from space. In the images, Venus is visibly glowing like “iron”, NASA said on its website. 

Venus’ surface is usually shrouded from sight, as it is smothered in thick clouds. The Parker Solar Probe, also called Parker, in the spacecraft’s two recent flybys of Venus, used the Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe, or WISPR, to image the entire nightside in wavelengths of the visible spectrum.

Visible light is what the human eye can see, and extends to the near-infrared spectrum.

The images captured by Parker reveal a faint glow from the surface that shows distinctive features like continental regions, plains, and plateaus. In the atmosphere of Venus, a luminescent halo of oxygen can be seen surrounding the bright planet.

January 2022

An explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on January 15, 2022, triggered a tsunami in the south Pacific ocean. The underwater volcano, also called a submarine volcano, is located near the Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelago of nearly 170 islands.

James Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, US, said that researchers estimate the amount of energy released by the eruption to be equivalent to somewhere between four to eight megatons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT), according to an article published by NASA’s Earth Observatory. The blast released hundreds of times the equivalent mechanical energy of the Hiroshima nuclear explosion in August 1945, NASA said on its website.

Using a combination of satellite observations and surface-based geophysical surveys, the team tracked the evolution of the rapidly changing piece of Earth, NASA said on its website.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, the uppermost part of the large underwater volcano in Tonga, rose 1.8 kilometres above the seafloor, stretched 20 kilometres across, and was topped by a submarine caldera (large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses).

The island was the only part of the edifice that stood above water. After the violent explosion, all of the new land is gone, along with large chunks of the two older islands, according to NASA.

A series of violent eruptions in early 2022 obliterated the island. By January 17, all that remained were two small landmasses, once again separated by the sea.

In January, Webb arrived at its final destination, almost a month after the much-awaited launch. The second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, or L2, Webb’s final destination, is located nearly one million miles, or 16,09,344 kilometres away from Earth.


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