As 2014 draws to a close, NASA looks back at the greatest advances in space accomplished over the last 12 months.
Charles Bolden, NASA administrator, told the press the space agency is developing environmentally-friendly fuels, and is studying the Earth, monitoring the environment. In the coming years, the goal of human space flight will be Mars, according to Bolden.
"We moved forward on our work to create quieter, greener airplanes and develop technologies to make air travel more efficient; and we advanced our study of our changing home planet, Earth, while increasing our understanding of others in our solar system and beyond," Bolden said.
The Orion spacecraft, the first vehicle ever built capable of taking humans to the Red Planet, underwent its first test flight in December 2014, albeit with no one on board. This was the first time since the Apollo project that NASA has sent a vehicle capable of carrying humans past low-Earth orbit, the operating altitudes of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.
The Space Launch System (SLS), the booster rocket that will launch Orion on the way to deep space, also progressed into its development phase in 2014. That massive booster will be constructed at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where installation of tools needed for the project was completed during 2014. During the initial test flight of the spacecraft, the vehicle lifted off on top of a Delta 4 heavy rocket.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (Maven) entered orbit around Mars on September 21, where the observatory is taking part in studying the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet. It became one of a fleet of vehicles that recorded the October flyby of a comet past Mars.
The Mars Rover 2020 was also announced by NASA in the last year. That automated vehicle will roam the Martian surface investigating conditions in advance of a human mission to the planet in the 2030's.
In April, astronomers using the Kepler space telescope announced the discovery of the first Earth-sized planet ever found in the habitable zone of an alien system. This is the distance from a star at which conditions are likely to create conditions where liquid water could exist.
Satellites systems tested by the space agency in 2014 include controlling spacecraft with smartphones and navigation using "green fuels."
Some of the technologies developed by NASA have direct benefit here on Earth. The Terminal Sequencing and Spacing system developed by the space agency will provide air traffic controllers with advanced tools to better manage flights.
Five new Earth science missions launched in 2014, the greatest rate accomplished in more than a decade.