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The top space stories of the week!

The U.S. celebrates 60 years of human spaceflight, a SpaceX Starship prototype completes a successful test landing and Venus' days are always changing. These are some of the top stories this week from Space.com. 

This week marks 60 years of American spaceflight.

The Redstone rocket carrying Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. lifts off from Cape Canaveral on May 5, 1961. (Image credit: NASA)

Wednesday (May 5) was the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard's historic flight as the first American spacefarer. The Mercury astronaut's 15-minute journey was just the beginning of many U.S. space flights that continue to this day. As spacecraft have evolved and destinations have changed, the sociopolitical reality surrounding spaceflight continues to influence the decisions of agency leadership. 

Full story: US spaceflight at 60: A lot has changed since NASA's 1st crewed mission

Watching for Long March 5B's debris. 

The core stage of a Chinese Long March 5B rocket, as photographed on the night of May 5, 2021, by Gianluca Masi's Virtual Telescope Project.  (Image credit: Gianluca Masi/The Virtual Telescope Project (www.virtualtelescope.eu))

Experts think that China's Long March 5B rocket, which is having an uncontrolled descent back to Earth, will land sometime on Saturday (May 8). The pieces from this rocket will likely land in the ocean because it covers 70% of Earth's surface, but no one can correctly predict where the debris may fall. Long March 5B launched in late April to deliver the core stage of China's upcoming space station into Earth orbit. 

Full story: Falling Chinese rocket debris spotted in space as White House weighs in (photo)

See also: Rocket debris from China's space station launch is falling back to Earth — but where?

SpaceX Starship prototype lands in one piece. 

SpaceX's Starship SN15 rocket prototype launches on a 10-kilometer test flight from SpaceX's Starbase test site near Boca Chica Village in South Texas on May 5, 2021.

SpaceX's Starship SN15 rocket prototype launches on a 10-kilometer test flight from SpaceX's Starbase test site near Boca Chica Village in South Texas on May 5, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

For the first time ever, a SpaceX Starship prototype successfully performed all of its flight test maneuvers — including a soft landing. The Starship SN15 launched on Wednesday (May 5) from SpaceX's facilities in south Texas, reaching an altitude of about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers). SN15's landing is a major milestone because its four immediate predecessors blew apart after attempting similar test flights to this one.  

Full story: SpaceX launches Starship SN15 rocket and sticks the landing in high-altitude test flight

See also: SpaceX's next flight for Crew Dragon Resilience is a private launch of 4 civilians

Blue Origin opens up spaceflight seat bidding, announces target launch date. 

The view from a seat on Blue Origin's New Shepard Spacecraft First Step during a suborbital test flight on April 14, 2021.

The view from a seat on Blue Origin's New Shepard Spacecraft First Step during a suborbital test flight on April 14, 2021. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

On Wednesday (May 5), Blue Origin announced its first astronaut flight will take place this summer. Six spaceflyers may launch onboard the company's New Shepard vehicle as soon as July 20, the anniversary of Apollo 11's historic landing on the moon. The announcement also said that one of the six space seats would be awarded to the winner of a three-phase online auction. 

Full story: Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin will launch its 1st astronaut flight on July 20 and you can bid for a seat

Auroral 'dunes' get an explanation. 

A dune-like aurora borealis. (Image credit: Graeme Whipps)

Puzzling "dune" auroras are new to science and happen in a peculiar location within Earth's atmosphere. Citizen scientists first noticed the phenomena in 2016, and they were first reported in scientific literature just one year ago. These auroral ''dunes'' may be the result of gravity waves interacting with oxygen atoms, according to new research. 

Full story: Mystery of strange new 'dune' auroras solved, scientists say

Hubble spots a still-forming planet. 

Scientists spot exoplanet PDS 70b while still forming 379 light-years away from Earth.

Scientists spot exoplanet PDS 70b while still forming 379 light-years away from Earth. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, Joseph Olmsted (STScI))

The Hubble Space Telescope observed the youngest-known exoplanet, and scientists are excited because they get to witness the creation of a world. Scientists studied this young 5 million-year-old body to learn about planetary formation. The juvenile gas giant exoplanet is roughly the size of Jupiter and it's located 379 light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus.  

Full story: The youngest exoplanet found by the Hubble telescope is the size of Jupiter (and still growing)

An orbiting telescope may help keep an eye on small space debris. 

space junk

(Image credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA) hopes to launch a project in a few years that could help monitor space debris. ESA wants to send an optical telescope into Earth orbit that helps scientists detect the sun's reflection on space junk. The orbiting telescope would be especially helpful to monitor tiny pieces of debris that are too small to be detected by ground-based telescopes. 

Full story: Europe plans to launch space telescope to monitor orbital debris

See also: Space junk is blocking our view of the stars, scientists say

NASA runs an asteroid crisis simulation.

A map showing potential impact sites of the hypothetical asteroid 2021 PDC, which scientists created to spur interdisciplinary conversations about planetary defense.

A map showing potential impact sites of the hypothetical asteroid 2021 PDC, which scientists created to spur interdisciplinary conversations about planetary defense. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Scientists and emergency response personnel participated in a fake asteroid crash exercise from April 26 to April 28, 2021 as part of the International Academy of Astronautics' Planetary Defense Conference. During this exercise, participants were presented with a made-up asteroid that would crash into Earth in just six months' time and they were tasked with dealing with the issue from discovery to impact. The conference conducts this asteroid crash simulation once every two years. 

Full story: How did you spend your week? NASA pretended to crash an asteroid into Earth.

The length of a Venutian day isn't fixed. 

Venus is swathed in a thick atmosphere that is difficult for scientists to peer through.

Venus is swathed in a thick atmosphere that is difficult for scientists to peer through. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Variations in Venus' spin could be causing the planet's days to vary in length, according to new work. Scientists studied the puzzling day length of this planet by measuring the tilt of Venus' axis, the size of its core, and the time it takes for Venus to complete one full rotation. To do so, they bounced light waves off of Venus over for more than ten years. 

Full story: How long is a day on Venus? It's always changing, new study reveals

Saturday is astronaut cleaning day. 

It's been a wild night aboard the International Space Station as the crew of eleven astronauts celebrated the 45th birthday of NASA's spaceman Victor Glover. But who did the cleaning up afterwards?

It's been a wild night aboard the International Space Station as the crew of eleven astronauts celebrated the 45th birthday of NASA's spaceman Victor Glover. But who did the cleaning up afterwards? (Image credit: ESA/NASA/Thomas Pesquet)

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet and his crewmates disinfect space station surfaces every week, according to a call he did with journalists on April 30, 2021. Pesquet and the other crew members currently onboard the International Space Station have strict cleaning protocols in place to prevent the spread of dangerous microorganisms. Pesquet, who arrived at the orbiting laboratory on April 24, said that Saturday is astronaut cleaning day. 

Full story: How do you clean a space station? Astronaut Thomas Pesquet shares orbital spring cleaning tips

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