Speaking of reviews (see below), this seems like as good a time as any to do a “year in review” entry.
A lot of people are moaning about how awful 2016 was. (It’s worse than you thought — not only was it a leap year, meaning it was 366 days, we also get a leap second just before midnight, so it’s 366 days and one second long.)
Yes, a lot of well-loved celebrities died (as did my ex’s mom), but so did a few not-so-well-loved folks did too. Fidel Castro comes to mind, for one.
And yeah, a lot of folks griped about the results of various elections. Face it, in any presidential election there are going to be millions unhappy with the outcome, whoever wins. I’ve got no particular brief on Brexit — I left Britain long before it became part of the EU, so in some ways for me it’s just a return to the status quo ante.
But now for the good stuff.
After their first brief successes at the end of 2015, both SpaceX and Blue Origin went on to successfully launch vehicles to space and return them intact several times in 2016. SpaceX did their first, second and third successful ocean landings on their drone ship Of Course I Still Love You as well as a couple more on land. (Alas, the unfortunate cryo tank detonation in September put a damper on that for the rest of the year, the good news is that they’ve figured out the problem and will be flying again as early as before January is out. Blue Origin, while facing a much easier flight regime (they’re not trying to put something in orbit) not only had several successful landings, but they reflew the same vehicle several times. SpaceX is still working towards this, and while DC-X did it twenty-five years ago, DC-X didn’t get anywhere near space, unlike Blue Origin’s New Shepard. So, in general a very good year for reusable spacecraft.
On the exploration front, NASA’s Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter in July, and has sent back some great new data on the gas giant’s atmosphere and magnetosphere. The Asteroid Sample Return mission, OSIRIS-Rex, is successfully on its way to asteroid Bennu (expected return in 2023). The James Webb Space Telescope was completed this November, and will undergo a year of testing with expected launch in 2018. And by no means least, especially considering the fiction I write, in May of 2016 the Kepler team announced 1,284 additional exoplanets found, of which at least nine are in their stars’ habitable zones. (That’s 1,284 more than the 951 already discovered by Kepler and brings the total to about 3,200.)
Also in 2016, the New Horizons probe spent most of the year (up to October) sending back the data it gathered in its fast flyby of Pluto et al. back last December. The tough little robot is now on its way to a rendezvous with Kuiper Belt Object “2014 MU69” in 2019.
So while 2016 may have sucked for some here on Earth, it’s looking good as far as us becoming a spacefaring species. Ad astra!
And oh yeah, speaking of spacefaring species, this year I had another book published, Alpha Centauri: First Landing. If you’re still bummed about 2016, or even if you’re not, you may enjoy it. I promise, no mention at all is made of the events of this past year. Available from, among other places, Amazon.