Year End

Look: 10 of the most explosive space launches of 2021

Space travel — and tourism — soared to new heights this year.

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2021 was massive for space travel, and not just for the purposes of exploration.

NASA launched plenty of research missions, but we also saw a boom in commercial spaceflight.

SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic took to the skies for some historic first flights, offering a glimpse at the future of space tourism.

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In 2022, there are big plans for more commercial travel to space.

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But before we get there, here’s a look back at the 10 most-dramatic launches of 2021:

10. Turksat-5A

To kick off the year, SpaceX launched its first 2021 mission using a Falcon 9 rocket on January 7.

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Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The mission sent up a satellite to bring TV to Turkey and surrounding areas.

9. Crew-2

SpaceX sent its Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station for the second time in April.



Four astronauts were on board — two from NASA, one from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and one from the European Space Agency.

8. Shenzhou-12

In June, China launched its first crewed mission to its new space station, Tiangong.

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It was a historic mission: Three astronauts set a country-wide record of spending 92 days in space — the longest for any Chinese nationals.

7. VSS Unity

Billionaire and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson blasted off in July on a 14-minute joyride — the company’s first crewed flight — just above the boundary of space.

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This launch was the first to demonstrate that a new era of spaceflight is dawning: One in which the world’s wealthiest and well-connected get the chance to see space as tourists.

6. New Shephard

Following suit, billionaire and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos also embarked on a brief visit to space in July during the company’s first crewed flight.

Blue Origin via YouTube

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Onboard were three other passengers: Bezos’ brother, Mark, aviator Wally Funk, and student Oliver Daeman.

Funk and Daeman were the oldest and youngest passengers ever to visit space, respectively.

5. Inspiration 4

The first-ever, all-civilian space crew launched inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience in September.

SpaceX via YouTube

They orbited Earth for almost three days before splashing down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX via YouTube
4. Lucy

NASA’s first mission to the Trojan asteroids — a body of ancient rocks in Jupiter’s orbit — launched in October atop an Atlas V rocket.

NASA via YouTube

Lucy will study eight predetermined landmarks to help astronomers unlock secrets of the Solar System’s origins.

3. Crew-3

After weeks of delays, SpaceX launched a third crew of four astronauts to the ISS in November.

NASA via YouTube

This crew will staff the ISS until May 2022. Crew-4 is expected to launch in April, so they will overlap for a short time.

2. LV0007

An up-and-coming California spaceflight company, Astra, launched its first payload for the U.S. Space Force in November.


NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, which could potentially help us defend Earth from an incoming asteroid one day, reached space in November.

NASA via YouTube

In late 2022, it will target the asteroid Dimorphos to see if it can successfully redirect flying space rocks with man-made spacecraft.

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