From James Webb to Artemis 1: NASA chief welcomes epic 2022 successes

NASA is looking very carefully at 2022.

The space agency had a lot to celebrate this year, from the deployment and operation of the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to the complete success of the groundbreaking Artemis 1 lunar mission.

“2022 will be one of the most successful years in NASA’s history,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told agency staff during a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday (December 13).

Related: First photos of the James Webb Space Telescope (gallery)

Nelson cited JWST as one of the prime examples. The huge observatory was launched on December 25, 2021 and then spent a month on its way to its final destination, a gravitationally stable place nearly 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth.

JWST showed off its frighteningly complex deployment sequence, which included almost 350 separate points of failure – individual steps that could derail the entire mission if they weren’t executed successfully. The test and validation phase of the JWST was also successful, and the infrared telescope began observing the sky in July.

The first few months of scientific research were eye-opening and tearful; For example, JWST has already looked into some of the most distant galaxies in the universe and has characterized the atmosphere of the nearest alien planet.

“Earlier this year, the James Webb Space Telescope ushered in a new era in astronomy,” Nelson said. “Each image is a new discovery. It deepens our understanding of the universe, its size and our place in it.”

Nelson also mentioned the agency’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) mission, in which the spacecraft collided with the moon of an asteroid called Dimorphos in late September.

The impact significantly altered Dimorphos’ orbit around its parent body, a larger space rock called Didymos, which helped researchers better understand the asteroid’s “kinetic impactor” method of deflecting the asteroid.

According to Nelson, the DART collision was “a watershed for planetary defense.” “It was an overwhelming success, literally and figuratively.”

Nelson also hailed the landmark Artemis 1 mission, which sent an uncrewed Orion capsule to and from lunar orbit.

Artemis 1, the first ever mission for NASA’s huge Space Launch System rocket and the second for Orion, launched on November 16. It ended when Orion splashed down in the Pacific about 100 miles (160 km) from Baja California. Sunday (December 11) – 50 years since the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, landed on the lunar surface.

NASA can now start preparing for Artemis 2, which should send four astronauts around the moon in 2024. If all goes well with this flight, Artemis 3 will stop near the south pole of the moon in 2025 or 2026.

Preparations for these and other Artemis flights will continue throughout 2023; NASA already has hardware in place that will last until the Artemis 5 mission, the agency said.

And there’s more to look forward to next year, like the return to Earth of asteroid samples collected in deep space by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe. This material will land in the Utah desert next September if all goes according to plan.

“I look forward to every day in 2023,” Nelson said.

Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).

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