What’s up? (In space!) Spring 2021

Welcome to the spring installment of What’s Up? (In space!), a seasonal look at what’s ahead in the world of space developments, projects, and people.

It’s been an exciting start to the year with so much Mars-related activity including, of course, the incredibly impressive Perseverance landing. So what else is in store for the next few months?

Boeing Boeing gone?
March 25 is the scheduled date for the second test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, intended to eventually become an “astronaut taxi.” The first test, all the way back in December 2019, didn’t quite go to plan (pesky software), failing to make it to the ISS. So this second attempt will also be uncrewed. Following a planned stay of 7 days at the ISS, the Starliner is slated for a parachute landing in New Mexico. If all goes well, a crewed mission with NASA astronauts could follow within a few months.

Super SpaceX
Boeing’s competitor SpaceX streaks further ahead with its Crew-2 mission, happening in April. NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur (wife of Robert Behnken – remember him from the first mission?) will be accompanied by Akihiko Hoshide from JAXA and the ESA’s Thomas Pesquet, bringing the total ISS crew to seven. Crew-3 will be in action in the fall.

More Mars magic
Things could be getting a little crowded on the surface of the Red Planet by May (well okay, not really :-)) with the potential arrival of China’s Tianwen-1 lander. The Tianwen spacecraft is currently in orbit around Mars, making assessments of suitable landing spots. If all goes well, a rover on board the lander will spend around three months carrying out high-resolution planetary surveys, including searching for water ice and liquid water. With the UAE’s Hope mission gathering data from its wide orbit, and Perseverance’s Ingenuity hopefully taking its first flight on the planet soon, we should be in for an amazing couple of decades of Mars discovery.

Heavenly Palace coming soon!
The world’s first space hotel? Not quite, but China’s rapidly developing space station will eventually be home to astronaut crews for up to six months at a time.

The core module, officially named Tianhe could be launching into space as early as May. This will house the crews’ living quarters and provide power for the whole station. Part of a three-module configuration, it will eventually attach to two other sections, designed for research and experimentation.

The launch of Tianhe is the first of eleven planned missions over the next two years to complete station construction. This is viewed as a major development in the modern-day space race, especially as the ISS (which China was barred from participating in) is showing its age.

It’s time to space party!
April 12th, 2021 is a momentous day for space enthusiasts. It’ll be 60 years since Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth in Vostok 1, marking the beginning of human spaceflight. And it’s the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first space shuttle. Check out the Yuri’s Night web site to start your (virtual?) celebration! You can follow the global live-streamed events starting April 10th.

Which space events are you most looking forward to in the next few months? Will you be partying on April 21st? Let me know in the comments!

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