Features Friday, January 09, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | December 25, 2014 | 10:10 am IST As 2014 comes to an end, the topic of space exploration is catching up as curiousity  compels the common man to wonder what else could be out there among all that vastness. In 2014, NASA took significant steps on the agency’s journey to Mars. "We advanced our study of our changing home planet, Earth, while increasing our understanding of others in our solar system and beyond.” says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Orion spacecraft NASA achieved a major milestone in December on its journey to Mars as the agency’s Orion spacecraft completed its first voyage to space during a four-and-a-half-hour flight test. Orion is part of NASA’s plan to develop new technologies and capabilities to send astronauts farther than ever before, first to an asteroid, and onward to the Red Planet. Curiosity Rover NASA's Curiosity rover continued this year to help refine our understanding of Mars. In December, NASA announced Curiosity had measured a spike in methane in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.  Curiosity's findings from analyzing samples of atmosphere and rock powder shed light on a chemically active modern Mars and on favorable conditions for life on ancient Mars. Observations by Curiosity also indicate Mount Sharp, near the rover’s landing site was built by sediments deposited in a large lake bed over tens of millions of years. International Space Station (ISS) A total of 12 crew members lived and worked aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014. Two of those crew members, NASA’s Reid Wiseman and Barry Wilmore, carried out in October the first spacewalks to begin reconfiguring the ISS to accommodate future U.S. commercial crewed spacecraft.  Read: When NASA 'emailed' a spanner to the International Space Station During his six months aboard the ISS, Wiseman gained a large following on social media, which he used to bring the wonders of human spaceflight directly to the public 140 characters at a time. "Discovery of Habitable planet" In November, NASA announced a rocket experiment found that the universe is brighter than scientists originally thought. NASA's Kepler mission announced in February the discovery of 715 new planets outside our solar system. These newly-verified worlds, known as exoplanets, orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system.  (The artist's concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone.Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech) Two months later, astronomers using Kepler announced they had discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the "habitable zone" -- the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting plane. Mangalyaan The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and has been orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014 with it, just completing three months in space.  It is India's first interplanetary mission and is also the first nation to reach Mars orbit on its first attempt.  In the last three months, Mangalyaan has captured nearly 300 pictures. On an average the spacecraft takes four pictures in three days. Besides capturing the images of dust storm activities, it has also taken images of comet Siding Spring. Rosetta Comet Landing The Rosetta spacecraft was perhaps the European Space Agency's proudest achievement. After leaving Earth in 2004, the Rosetta spacecraft in August,caught up with the comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and then sent its Philae lander down for the first-ever soft landing on the comet itself. While the probe soon went dark, hopes are high that it will reawaken next year and send back more scientific data about conditions at the comet. Here's a video compilation of some of the major breakthroughs that happened in 2014 Tweet

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