From long-awaited rocket launches to an unprecedented asteroid encounter, the past 12 months in spaceflight have been a doozy. The events of 2022 will be shaping space exploration and commercialization for years to come.
These striking images will let you relive the biggest moments of the year, like the Artemis 1 lunar mission, the DART asteroid deflection test, and the out-of-control Chinese rockets (yes, plural). Good, bad, or ugly, these developments produced a wealth of memorable imagery.
The moment of impact
This image, taken by the Italian-built LICIACube, shows the immediate aftermath of NASA’s DART spacecraft smashing into the Dimorphos asteroid. The tentacle-like plumes surprised astronomers, but the mission to deflect an asteroid worked, as DART managed to shove the non-threatening object by a few dozen feet. “Each rectangle represents a different level of contrast in order to better see fine structure in the plumes,” according to the European Space Agency.
Too close for comfort
A bolt of lightning struck near NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on September 12, 2022. This turned out to be the least of NASA’s worries, as Hurricane Ian forced the space agency to shelter its Artemis 1 rocket inside the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building just a few weeks later.
A view of Boeing’s Starliner CST-100 approaching the ISS on May 20, 2022. The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 was the first successful docking of the in-development spacecraft and a major step toward its final certification as a crew-rated capsule. A similar mission will be attempted in 2023, this time with astronauts on board.
Stacked Starship at Starbase
A fully stacked Starship rocket stands tall at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas on February 10. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had hoped to launch the enormous rocket in 2022, but it didn’t happen. When it finally goes up, it’ll be the most powerful rocket ever launched.
Orion, Moon, Earth
One of several iconic photos taking during NASA’s successful Artemis 1 mission. This image was captured on November 28 — the 13th day of the mission — when the spacecraft was 268,563 miles (432,210 kilometers) away from Earth.
8.8 million pounds of thrust
A gorgeous view of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket blasting off on November 16 from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The megarocket performed flawlessly, sending the Orion spacecraft on a 25.5-day journey around the Moon.
Orion’s temporary farewell
NASA’s Orion spacecraft took this parting shot of Earth a few hours into the 25.5-day Artemis 1 mission, when it was 57,000 miles (91,700 kilometers) from our home planet.
The rubble pile
A close-up view of Dimorphos, just moments before NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, smashed into the unsuspecting asteroid. Researchers weren’t sure what the surface would be like before the probe’s arrival.
Earth and the infinite void
The Sun’s dazzling effect on the Atlantic Ocean is on full display in this ISS photo captured on April 8.
Catching rocket boosters mid-air
In May, Rocket Lab attempted to catch an Electron rocket booster with a helicopter. The pilots managed to snag the parachute line with a hook, but they opted to drop it upon noticing “different load characteristics” than those experienced during previous test flights.
Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti
European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti developed a huge following during her time aboard the ISS, sharing delightful and informative details of her stay via TikTok. This is such a great photo of the Italian astronaut, as I feel it captures the joyful spirit that she brought to low Earth orbit.
The money shot
This is easily my favourite image from the recently concluded Artemis 1 mission. It was taken mere moments after Orion completed its second close lunar flyby and as it regained communications with ground controllers on Earth. I literally gasped when this unspeakably beautiful celestial view appeared on my screen.
Oh, hey there, astronauts
NASA astronauts Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins can be seen peering out from the ISS’s cupola, in this photo captured on September 12.
33 Raptor engines
This daunting view, taken beneath a Starship prototype booster, shows all 33 Raptor engines ready and rarin’ to go, in an image released on July 2. The SpaceX megarocket is poised to be the most powerful ever built, exerting an expected 16.7 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.
ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer captured this amazing selfie while performing a seven-hour spacewalk outside the ISS on March 23.
Fly like an eagle
SpaceX launched a Falcon Heavy rocket on November 1, the first flight of the big rocket in three years. The 70.10 m-tall launch vehicle delivered a secretive payload for the U.S. Space Force to geosynchronous orbit.
More on this story: Photos Show Launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy With Classified Military Payload
The launch director
Artemis 1 launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson stood at her console as Artemis teams performed a launch simulation on October 27. Blackwell-Thompson was a symbol of the space agency’s perseverance, patience, and calm, as NASA failed to launch SLS on two previous attempts, finally succeeding on the third.
The lunar surface
Orion captured this high-resolution view of the lunar surface on December 7, day 20 of the Artemis 1 mission.
Earth by way of Lucy
Pizza party…in space
Expedition 67 crew members enjoyed a rare treat on May 27: pizza. Clockwise from left are Denis Matveev, Oleg Artemyev, Sergey Korsakov, Kjell Lindgren, Jessica Watkins, and Samantha Cristoforetti.
Another day, another SpaceX mission
This is a really neat view of a Falcon 9 rocket flying to space, captured on January 6. It would be the first of many such launches for SpaceX in 2022, with the private company performing more than 50 flights during the calendar year.
Fire and fury
A SpaceX Falcon 9 plume during the NASA Crew-4 launch on April 27.
Hurricane Ian, as seen from the ISS on September 26. The storm hit Florida, causing massive flooding and more than 100 deaths.
Bezos, we have a problem
An uncrewed New Shepard rocket went up in flames during an attempted launch on September 12, grounding the Blue Origin suborbital launch vehicle while the FAA performs a review.
Orion’s close lunar flyby
The Orion spacecraft captured this eerie view of the Moon during its first close lunar flyby on November 23.
More on this story: NASA’s Orion Sends Back Haunting New Views of the Moon’s Tortured Surface
Endurance below the horizon
An otherworldly view of the SpaceX Dragon Endurance crew ship approaching the ISS on October 6. Aboard were NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.
The view from inside Orion
No humans flew aboard Orion during Artemis 1, but the capsule did have occupants in the form of three manikins: Campos (pictured), Helga, and Zohar. The Callisto tech demonstration (a communications test using a customised iPad and Alexa app) also appears in this photo, along with the Snoopy zero-gravity indicator, seen floating below centre.
Italian night life
Italy, including the French island of Corse and Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily, is clearly visible in this stunning nighttime photo from the ISS taken on July 4.
Grasping onto Cygnus
This February 21 image shows a Cygnus freighter in the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. I love the clarity of this image, including the contours of the cloud tops below.
Falling rocket debris
Members of the Philippine Coast Guard hold debris from a Chinese Long March 5B that performed an uncontrolled re-entry on August 2, causing rocket bits to fall near populated regions across northern Borneo and parts of the Philippines. It was the first of two uncontrolled March 5B reentries in 2022.
Soyuz blast off
A view of a Russian Soyuz MS-22 rocket taking flight from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 21, 2022. Aboard were NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin.
Making the exceptional look routine
For SpaceX, what goes up must come safely down. Here, two Falcon 9 first stage rockets can be seen performing vertical landings following the launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket.
This is the quintessential photo of Orion making its parachute-assisted descent on December 11. Looking closely, you can see that the capsule, which endured temperatures in excess of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry, is still steaming hot. Orion splashed down near Baja, California, ending the historic Artemis 1 mission.