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World's space achievements a shining star in 2020
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World's space achievements a shining star in 2020

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronauts blasted into orbit from the U.S. for the first time in nearly a decade, three countries sent spacecraft hurtling toward Mars, and robotic explorers grabbed rocks from the moon and gravel from an asteroid for return to Earth.

Space provided moments of hope and glory in an otherwise difficult, stressful year.

It promises to do the same in 2021, with February's landings at Mars and next fall's planned launch of the Hubble Space Telescope's successor — the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope.

Boeing hopes to catch up with SpaceX in the astronaut-launching department, while space tourism may finally get off the ground.

Although the coronavirus pandemic complicated space operations around the globe in 2020, most high-priority missions remained on track, led by the U.S., China and the United Arab Emirates in a stampede to Mars in July.

Here's a look back at the world's space achievements in 2020:

China's orbiter-rover duo Tianwen-1 — quest for heavenly truth — also will hunt for signs of bygone life.

The European and Russian space agencies skipped the 2020 Mars launch window, their life-sniffing Mars rover grounded until 2022 because of technical issues and COVID-19 restrictions.

In November, four more astronauts rode a SpaceX Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. Three weeks later, SpaceX launched its biggest cargo shipment yet to the space station for NASA.

Until the SpaceX flights, Russia's three-person Soyuz capsules were the only way to get astronauts to the space station once NASA's shuttles shut down.

NASA's other hired crew transporter, Boeing, is scrambling to get its Starliner capsule back in action after a software-spoiled test flight in December 2019. The do-over — again with no one on board — is targeted for spring. If the repairs work and the capsule finally reaches the space station, the first Starliner astronauts could be flying by summer.

 NASA is still targeting a November debut of its new moon rocket, the Space Launch System, with an Orion capsule that will launch without a crew. The Trump administration had set a 2024 deadline for the first moon landing by astronauts since NASA's Apollo program a half-century ago. Just this month, NASA introduced the 18 astronauts who will train for the moon program named for Artemis, the mythological twin sister of Apollo.

Here are photos from SpaceX's November launch that sent four astronauts to the International Space Station:

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