For any cause–from pigs to tubas to cream puffs–someone has designated a day of celebration. So it’s only right that there be a day for the entire universe. Many educational institutions, government agencies, and aerospace companies have picked the first Friday in May, called Space Day. It originated in 1997 as a PR vehicle for aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin. But it’s gained credibility with growing support, for instance from the late Mercury astronaut and Senator John Glenn.
Not a lot is happening on the day itself–mainly a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station, which was already delayed. But a march of major events in astrophysics, aerospace, and even entertainment begins now and continues through the end of the year.
May 6: Eta Aquariids meteor shower
Halley’s Comet won’t visit Earth again until 2062. But it left behind a cloud of debris that we pass through annually, triggering these meteor showers. Already underway, Eta Aquariids will peak on May 6th, on a nearly moonless night.
May 9: Possible Blue Origin Moon mission announcement
Jeff Bezos’s space venture recently tweeted a photo of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship, The Endurance, and the numbers “5.9.19.” Shackleton Crater is a 13-mile-wide formation at the Moon’s south pole that may contain water ice–a resource for life support and rocket fuel. Blue Origin has discussed a lunar rocket called New Armstrong and a robotic cargo vehicle, called Blue Moon. Perhaps more details will emerge on this day.
July 2: Total solar eclipse over South America
The Moon cast its shadow across North America in 2017. Now it’s South America’s turn, with a total eclipse passing over Chile and Argentina.
July 9-16: Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission launch window
Having sent an orbiting research vehicle to the Moon in 2008, the Indian Space Research Organisation is undertaking a new mission that includes a satellite, lander, and rover. Launching sometime in this seven-day window, Chandrayaan-2 is due to reach the Moon on September 6.
July 20: Apollo Moon landing 50th anniversary
Given all the difficulty and delay in efforts to return humans to the moon, it’s amazing that people managed six visits beginning half a century ago. Google Arts and Culture recently created a multimedia presentation of the historic launch site.
July 23 to August 20: Perseids meteor shower
Earth makes its annual pass through the debris cloud left by comet 109P/Swift–Tuttle, creating one of the best meteor showers of the year, which peaks on August 13.
Some time in August: Boeing Starliner test flight
Following the successful launch SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in March, it’s time for rival Boeing to demonstrate its vehicle. Like the SpaceX test, this first launch will be unscrewed, meant to demonstrate that the craft can reach the ISS, dock, and return safely to Earth. Boeing and NASA hope to send a crewed mission by the end of the year.
October 15-November 14: Cheops exoplanet observatory launch window
America’s recently retired Kepler space telescope discovered thousands of planets orbiting alien suns. A new crop of space telescopes will continue that work, including the European Space Agency’s Cheops mission, which will study the size of exoplanets orbiting nearby stars.
November – December: Hayabusa2 leaves asteroid Ryugu
Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe to Ryugu has included dropping three landers, bombing the asteroid to stir up soil, and descending twice to Ryugu’s surface to collect samples. In November or December, Hayabusa2 heads back to Earth with its loot.
December 6-19: Geminids meteor shower
The monarch of meteor showers, the Geminids can delight viewers with 60-80 “shooting stars” per hour at its peak, which will be on the nights of December 13 and 14.
Sometime this year
The Expanse: Season 4 premiere
Saved from cancelation by Jeff Bezos’s Amazon Studios, this epic series (originally on SyFy) is one of the best portrayals of what spacefaring life might be like. Set 300 years in the future in a thoroughly colonized solar system, it goes deep on technical aspects like fusion reactors and various flavors of artificial gravity–alongside fantastical elements like alien-built wormholes to distant stars.
Second SpaceX Crew Dragon launch
Following a flawless unscrewed flight in March, SpaceX looked poised to ferry astronauts to the ISS as early as July. But an explosion during an April 20 ground-based test destroyed the empty craft (without injuring anyone), putting everything in doubt. SpaceX still expresses optimism it can get astronauts to the ISS this year.
Blue Origin’s first crewed suborbital mission
Named for the first American to go into space (but not into orbit), New Shepherd is Jeff Bezos’s reusable rocket and capsule combo. Taking tourists to the edge of space (for yet-to-be-announced fee), it will offer spectacular views and a few minutes of weightlessness. After 11 successful robotic flights, the company aims for a crewed flight by the end of the year.
Chang’e 5 lunar mission
China, which celebrated its own Space Day in April, landed humanity’s first probe and rover on the far side of the moon in January with the Chang’e 4 and plans to make another trip this year. Chang’e 5 aims to collect rock samples and return them to Earth–for the first time since the Apollo Moon landings.