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Exploding rockets and chasing comets - The year in space exploration

What a year it’s been…

2014 HAS BEEN quite a year.

In the everyday hubub of life, we can sometimes forget to take the time to think about the incredible things we humans have achieved over the years. We are seeing and finding out new things about our universe every day and we did a lot more of this in 2014.

In fact, it was a year that saw us achieve some spectacular things. We landed a probe on a speeding comet, we launched rockets into space  that cost less to make than Hollywood movies and we continued laying out plans to some day land a human on Mars.

Our hunger to explore the universe only gets stronger so let’s look at what we already managed to do in 2014.

The International Space Station

Source: NASA

In early January, NASA announced the International Space Station will operate for an additional four years – until 2024.

Italy’s first female astronaut docked at the ISS in November – bringing supplies of caviar and an espresso machine with her. Space exploration in style. We approved.

Source: Dmitry Lovetsky/PA

There was an exciting ISS-related development for Ireland too, as an experiment designed by researchers at Limerick Institute of Technology landed on the space station.

Source: International Space Station

It spent 28 days exploring how the clover-like payload reacts in space and whether or not it can be used as a natural fertilizer for crops there.

Rockets and spaceships

India launched four satellites into orbit on a rocket that cost less to make than the Hollywood film ‘Gravity’.

Source: AP/Press Association Images

There was an unfortunate incident in October when an unmanned commercial rocket which was supposed to bring supplies to the International Space Station exploded in Virginia.

Source: Brad Panovich/YouTube

In November, Virgin Galactic’s experimental spaceship broke apart, tragically killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. The company said a device to slow the craft’s descent prematurely deployed.

Source: Ringo H.W. Chiu/PA

Chasing a comet

On 20 January, the now infamous Rosetta satellite awakened from hibernation after 31 months. It had been placed in a deep space slumber while it chased a comet through space.

In August Rosetta caught up with the comet and started orbiting it. Excited European scientists began preparing for landing a robot chemistry lab on the surface. Of course, Rosetta took the obligatory selfie with the comet – it had been on the chase for ten years, in fairness.

Source: ESA

In November we had touchdown as the now beloved Philae probe left Rosetta and landed on the comet.

There was a period of worry after Philae landed, as it bounced a kilometre from its target site and was in a dark ditch which prevented it from being able to fully recharge its batteries.

After three days of non-stop work, Philae was exhausted. Its batteries ran out and it was unable to recharge them enough so it fell asleep. This final exchange between Philae and Rosetta broke our hearts:

Roaming rovers

Though the Curiosity Rover came to fame in 2012 after landing on the moon and having a good look around, the Opportunity Rover, which has been on the Red Planet for more than ten years, made its comeback. Despite a few aches and pains that have come with age, it is still wandering around and sending back data to scientists and it discovered a rock shaped like a jelly doughnut. Scientists said it’s unlike any rock they’ve seen on Mars before. Beat that, Curiosity.

Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/YouTube

Speaking of Curiosity, the shiny new high-tech rover celebrated its first year on Mars … by taking a selfie while it worked on the Red Planet.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Another rover that wasn’t going down without a fight was China’s Jade Rabbit lunar rover. After landing in December 2013, it experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” and had a bit of a sleep. In February it suddenly woke up, though it was rather worse for wear after a bitterly cold 14-day lunar night. After a second lunar night, Jade was unable to move but continued to send back data. There’s no bringing this rover down.

Source: Xinhua

And the rest…

Finally, where would the last year’s space exploration be without Jean Claude Van Damme doing his epic splits in zero gravity?

Source: Linh Mai/YouTube

Read: Inside the abandoned rocket bases dotted across the United States>

More: Here’s what Comet 67P would look like if it landed in Cork City>

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