10 Amazing Things Humans Did in Space in 2021

Dr. Tanya Harrison
7 min readDec 28, 2021

While this year may have sucked pretty hard on Earth, some pretty cool stuff happened in (and/or near) space in 2021. And while robots and rockets tend to steal the show, all of those bits of technology were designed, built, and operated by humans! Let’s look back at the past year:

1. NASA landed its latest rover on Mars—and we all got to see it!

In February, NASA landed the Perseverance rover in Jezero Crater, Mars. Percy is armed with 23 separate cameras, a suite of which were specifically designed to capture the entry, descent, and landing sequence of the rover. Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve gotten a view of a rover landing from the rover itself—Curiosity had its Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), which also sent back a landing video—but this is the first time we’ve had multiple camera angles and full motion video. The result is simply stunning.

2. The UAE and China joined the Martian ranks!

Hope’s first image of Mars, showing the Tharsis volcanoes.
Hope’s first image of Mars, showing the Tharsis volcanoes. Image credit: UAESA/MBRSC/LASP/EMM-EXI

The United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter and China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter with a rover named Zhurong also arrived at Mars in February, marking the first interplanetary missions* for both countries. Hope is designed to study Mars’ lower atmosphere, working in tandem with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), which arrived at the Red Planet in 2014 and is focused on the upper atmosphere. Tianwen-1 imaged the martian surface for a few weeks before a landing site was selected for Zhurong. The rover touched down in Utopia Planitia in May.

3. A tiny helicopter flew on Mars!

The frigid atmosphere of Mars is as thin as being at 130,000 feet in altitude here on Earth. That’s far beyond the operational…

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Dr. Tanya Harrison

Professional Martian who's worked on rocks and robots on the Red Planet on multiple NASA Mars missions