Because this is ThisWeekInTomorrow and not ThisWeekInYesterday, here’s a selection of things to look forward to in 2014 (rather than the things that happened in 2013). Have a great year everyone!
Orion’s First Flight
Still on track for September 2014 is EFT-1 (Exploration Test Flight 1), the first test flight of NASA’s Lockheed-Martin-built Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). You may have seen some of the shots of its journey across the nation last month as folks on twitter (and elsewhere) followed it and tweeted at #SpotOrion. In case you missed it, Orion is NASA’s planned successor to the space shuttle program, which will eventually be launched aboard the planned Space Launch System. Because the first SLS test flight isn’t scheduled until 2017, September’s launch will be aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket, and is designed to test the heat shields and landing capabilities of the Orion module and its 11 (!!) parachutes. Even if it’s not aboard the SLS, it should be one hell of a show, as NASA starts showing some visible progress toward sending its own back to orbit. We’ll have to wait until 2020 to see a crew flight, though, which brings us to our next item.
SpaceX’s 14 Scheduled Launches
SpaceX has fourteen launches scheduled for 2014 (so far), including four ISS resupply missions that will further test its Dragon module’s reliability, and one test flight of their new Falcon Heavy rocket out of Vandenberg. The Falcon Heavy is being touted by SpaceX as “the world’s most powerful rocket,” with the ability to launch 53 metric tons of cargo to orbit. For the record, it’s not the most powerful rocket ever built — that title goes to the Saturn V with a max payload almost twice the size — but given that one of those hasn’t flown for over 40 years, and that the next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy (being used to test the new Orion module in September), can only carry half the Falcon Heavy’s payload, we’ll give it to them.
For those of you in North and most of South America, there will be a total lunar eclipse on April 15, and for those of you on the Pacific coast (pretty much anywhere with a Pacific coast, actually) there will be another on October 8. And it’s always a good idea to keep in mind the predictable unpredictability of the season meteor showers if you like a good light show: the Quadrantids on January 2nd and 3rd are your first chance, followed by the Lyrids in April, the Eta Aquarids in May, the Delta Aquarids in July, the Perseids in August, the Orionids in October, and the Geminids in December. Earthsky has all the meteor details in one handy post. And for those of you with telescopes and an interest in where the planets are at handy moments, Mashable has a list of space events taking place in 2014 and how to watch them.
In 2014 two spacecraft are scheduled to arrive on Mars: ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN). The MOM is primarily designed as a test bed for new Indian technologies, but everyone’s hoping it goes above and beyond its basic objectives and adds to the collective pool of data about the red planet’s surface features and atmosphere. MAVEN’s objectives are more detailed: its job is to determine how much atmosphere Mars has left, how it lost it, and what it was like before it did. While neither mission is scheduled to land on our celestial neighbour, the Curiosity mission has upgraded its software and is continuing into 2014.
Rosetta and Philae
In case you’d forgotten since its launch in March 2004 (!) the ESA’s mission to explore comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta (and its lander Philae) should arrive at the comet around May. Rosetta did flybys of asteroids 2867 Steins in 2008 and 21 Lutetia in 2010, and now it’s poised to make contact with its final objective. It wakes back up on January 20, and you can follow its progress on twitter at @ESA_Rosetta and over at the ESA’s Rosetta page, which has the adorable video above.
While making predictions for the dozens of tech conferences happening in 2014 is off the table for a list like this, with only a week to go before CES 2014 in Las Vegas, the buzz is beginning. Likely sights will be T-Mobile giving other carriers serious headaches as its “Un-carrier” campaign continues; curved screens from anyone and everyone; “wearable” tech (and fitness trackers) that will actually seem more wearable; lots of 3D printing tech; and Microsoft continuing to limp along waiting for brighter days. Or something.
Unlike some, I’m predicting that Bitcoin will not die a horrible death in 2014, but rather will become more and more of a regular presence in online markets as more retailers start accepting the digital currency. Among those reportedly toying with the idea are online giants Overstock.com and Newegg. Furthermore, with Time magazine naming Coinbase their second most promising startup of 2013, and with the guys who invented mining pools coming up with hardware-based wallets, you’ll be spoiled for choice as to where you keep your BTC. In other news, the third generation of mining hardware will be hitting the major mining companies in the first and second quarters of 2014 as well, so expect there to be some news on that front. The really exciting stuff will be happening not in Bitcoin itself, but in the unpredictable new technologies spawned by the invention of the shared ledger tech on which Bitcoin rests.
It’s going to be an interesting year.