3 Space Missions to Look for in 2021

Let’s be honest: 2020 hasn’t exactly been
what any of us expected,and that goes for space science, too. Lots of missions have faced setbacks,including the infamously delayed James Webb
Space Telescope. But there’s no stopping progress, and space
agencies have big plans for 2021. So, if everything goes according to plan,here are three of the most exciting missions
we can look forward to in the coming year. Now, one thing that did happen last yearwas the launch of the Mars 2020 mission, back
in July. It’s carrying a rover named Perseverance,
and,after a seven-month cruise to the Red Planet,
it’s set to land in February. First, it’ll touch down via a jet-powered
sky crane;a platform that will hover over the ground
and lower it to the surface by cables. Then, it’ll get to work exploring the Jezero
Crater on the edge of Mars’s Northern Lowlands. This 45-kilometer-wide crater once contained
a lake,and scientists think it could have been an
ideal cradle for life on Mars. So Perseverance will spend some of its timelooking for signs of ancient microbial life
in the dry lake bed, things like key molecules. But it’ll also start to set the stage for
the first missions to return to Earth from Mars. So far, every mission to Mars has been stuck
there,largely because they haven’t been able to
transport enough fuel for the return journey. So we’ve never been able to bring a sample
from Mars back to Earth. But it may be possible in the future, and
Perseverance is expected to help with that. Its onboard experiment called MOXIE will test
a new technologyfor turning carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere
into oxygen. And someday, that oxygen could be used as
rocket fuel for a return mission. Scientists are actually so optimistic about
the idea of a sample return mission thatthe rover will start to collect and stash
samples to return to Earth on some future spacecraft. In the meantime, once it settles in,Perseverance will also deploy the two-kilogram
Mars Helicopter Ingenuity,which is set to make the first-ever powered
flight on the Red Planet. And that’s no small feat in Mars’s thin
atmosphere, which is about 1% as dense as Earth’s. There’s just really not a lot of air to
push against. But scientists hope that with Ingenuity’s
blades rotating up to 40 times a second it’ll be possible. The tiny craft is designed to hover about
three to five meters above the ground,and could travel up to 300 meters in a single
flight. And if it works, it could pave the way for
larger, more complex Mars helicoptersthat could explore farther than ever before. But Mars isn’t the only world we’ll be
visiting in 2021. Back in 2019, NASA set out to send people
to the Moon by 2024. And granted, there are a lot of engineering
challenges to overcome before that happens,but 2021 will see the first major step toward
that goal. That’s because, in November,the Artemis 1 mission will do a test run of
a trip to the Moon and back. The mission has two main parts:a spacecraft called Orion and a Space Launch
System, or SLS rocket. Orion won’t carry a crew this time, but
other than that, the mission will be a full testof all of the technology that will ultimately
take two astronauts to the Moon. For now, the plan is for Orion to shoot past
the Moon,orbit it for a few days, and then head home. But this mission isn’t just about the capsule:
It’s also about the rocket. The SLS rocket is NASA’s modern-day counterpart
to the Apollo program’s Saturn V,and it’s 15% more powerful. It’ll be capable of launching at least 95
metric tons into low-Earth orbit. And from there, a second stage will fire to
send Orion to the Moon. This rocket will be absolutely crucial for
the Artemis program,which will be delivering heavy loads of cargo
and eventually crew to the Moon. So while it’ll still be some time before
NASA is ready to put people in that capsule,this is a good start toward that 2024 goal. Finally, our last highlight isn’t about
other planets or moons:It’s a mission that’s aimed at protecting
our planet from asteroids. We don’t know of any asteroids that are
currently threatening to hit us,but we want to be prepared in casewe ever need to protect ourselves from an
impact in the future. So, NASA has designed the Double Asteroid
Redirection Test, or DART,to try a technique that could potentially
deflect asteroids headed our way. The principle is pretty simple: Basically,
they’re going tothrow something really hard at an asteroid
to try and change its course. The target for this test is a tiny asteroid
between Earth and Mars nicknamed Didymoon. It orbits a larger asteroid, called Didymos,
about every 12 hours. According to NASA’s plan, an experimental
spacecraft will launchin mid-to-late 2021 and travel 11 million
kilometers toward the asteroid pair,before smashing into Didymoon at nearly 24,000
kilometers per hour. After this head-on impact, scientists predict
that Didymoon will get knocked inward. That should shorten its orbit, so researchers
will be able to gauge their successby seeing how much the asteroid’s orbital
period changes after the test. And that will help us figure out how successful
a strategy like this can be,and how asteroids behave when they’re hit
really hard. Like, will they really move as much as we
expect them to?Or will they break up under the impact? And
what does that mean for us?The better we can answer these questions,the better we can defend our planet from any
asteroids in the future. And these are just three of the missions scheduled
for 2021!We’ve got a lot to look forward to in space
science,and it’s shaping up to be a really exciting
year. We’ll both explore new worlds and learn
how to protect the one we call home,and I’m sure there will be some surprise
discoveries along the way. Before we go, we wanted to give a special
shoutoutto this week’s President of Space: Matthew
Brant!Matthew is one of our patrons on Patreon,and they’re the reason we’re able to keep
making this show. So, to Matthew and all of our patrons, thanks
for your support!If you want to learn more about supporting
episodes like this,you can head over to Patreon. com/SciShow.

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