Top 10 Space Exploration Accomplishments of 2015

December 31, 2015 | Elizabeth Knowles

space 2015
Photo credit: SpaceX — SpaceX Photos/flickr, Hubble — ESA, Pluto — NASA, Dawn Spacecraft — JPL/NASA

Where to next?

Every year, humans strive to learn more about life outside our planet. We aim to discover, travel and explore. Here are some of the amazing achievements over the last year.

1. SpaceX’s Successful Orbital Rocket Landing

On December 21, SpaceX successfully landed an orbital rocket. This is one of the first steps towards creating reusable spacecraft for future trips to Mars.

2. 15 Years of Continuous Human Presence on the International Space Station

November 2, 2015 marked the 15th anniversary of a constant human presence aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Fifteen years ago, an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts were the first people to set foot aboard the giant satellite orbiting the Earth. Since then over 220 individuals have boarded the ISS to further scientific enquiry, expand humanity’s knowledge of the universe and marvel at the beauty of the Earth below them.

3. One Year Aboard the ISS

US astronaut Scott Kelly is currently attempting to set the record for the longest time an American has ever spent in space. He and his twin brother, also an astronaut but living on Earth, are undergoing similar medical experiments to see how humans adapt to life in space. Their mission began in March 2015.

4. Hubble Turns 25

The Hubble Space Telescope, put into space by NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency) has now been in place for 25 years! The James Webb Space Telescope that is set to launch in 2018 is also now half-completed.

5. Curiosity’s Third Year on Mars

The Curiosity Rover has now spent over three years on the red planet. It celebrated its 1000th sol (the Martian version of a day) on Mars and has now traveled a record-breaking distance, farther than the length of a marathon.

6. Pluto Flyby

On July 14 2015,  successfully completed the 3-billion-mile journey to Pluto and has been sending back stunning pictures and data ever since. It is now on route to the Kuiper Belt.

7. First Dwarf Planet to Be Visited by a Spacecraft

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, launched in 2007, was the first spacecraft to fly by a dwarf planet — Ceres in this case. It is also the first time a probe has ever orbited two solar system targets, its previous one being protoplanet Vesta, which it orbited for 14 months from 2011 to 2012. It recently also solved the mystery of the bright spots on Ceres, which turned out to be salt deposits.

8. Philae Woke Up

Philae’s landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko took place in 2014, but its primary battery expired after 60 hours and it hibernated for 211 days before waking up and sending a signal back to earth through the ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft on June 13, 2015.

9. Cassini Visits Enceladus

On October 28, NASA's Cassini spacecraft completed the closest ever flyby of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. It is one of Saturn’s 62 moons and is still geologically active.

10. Discovery of Closest Ever Potentially Habitable Planet

Australian astronomers have discovered the closest ever habitable planet outside of our solar system — just 14 light years away. The planet, named Wolf 1061c, is in the Goldilocks zone, which means that it is neither too hot nor too cold for life to be possible.

You might also like: 10 Lesser-Known Facts about the International Space Station

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