Answers With Joe

2021 Year in Review | Answers With Joe

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Well, 2021 is coming to a close, so let’s take a look back at some of the biggest science stories of the year – and look ahead at what to look forward to in 2022!

TRANSCRIPT:

Well, we made it. 2021 is coming to a close and here we are. We survived. A little beaten, a little broken, but here we are.

I say we survived… Truth be told, I’m recording this early because I’d like to have a little time off for the holidays so hopefully we’re all still here and haven’t been destroyed by an asteroid or something worse…

So, this is either my swan song or my latest episode. Either way, let’s make it a banger.

This is going to be one of my more straightforward episodes. It’s basically a list of the science and technology accomplishments of 2021, followed by what we can expect to happen in those fields next year.

Let’s launch right into it.

Space

First on our docket is space, our fascinating neighbor above our heads. Here are some highlights from this year.

NASA’s Perseverance rover landed safely on Mars in February. 

In April, a small helicopter that traveled with Perseverance named Ingenuity became the first powered flight of an aircraft on another planet when it hovered for 30 seconds above the surface of Mars. 

Also in April, SpaceX secured a $2.89 billion contract with NASA to build its next crewed lunar lander. 

And let’s not forget another news item from April when China’s Tiangong space station was launched with its first core module named Tianhe. 

On May 5, the Starship SN15 from SpaceX flew up to around 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), performed several maneuvers, and landed softly on its landing pad six minutes after takeoff. 

SpaceX’s Starship prototypes are around 46 meters (150 feet) tall, similar to the height of a 15-story building. Three Raptor rocket engines power each starship.

On July 11, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo carried Richard Branson and five other crewmates to 86 kilometers (53 miles) above Earth’s surface.

They experienced four minutes of weightlessness before gliding back down to the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico.  

On July 20, Blue Origin carried its first humans above the Karman line, the boundary between our atmosphere and outer space that is 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

Blue Origin’s founder Jeff Bezos, his brother, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen were on the flight.

Funk was 82 years old, and Daemen was 18 years old, making them the oldest and youngest people to travel in outer space at the time.

On July 29, an incident occurred on board the International Space Station when a Russian module fired its thrusters when it shouldn’t have, making the station begin to spin, but luckily flight engineers were able to bring the station under control. 

On September 16th, the Inspiration4 mission orbited the Earth for 2 days carrying an all civilian crew on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, making it the first all civilian orbital flight in history.

The crew featured Jared Isaacman, who also funded the mission, Sian Proctor, Christopher Sembroski, and Hayley Arceneaux, who actually just recently was hired by SpaceX so congratulations to her.

Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3 reached orbit on November 20 from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska on Kodiak Island. 

In December, Rocket Lab shared details about its Neutron rocket that’s designed to carry satellites into space.

The rocket is made out of a special carbon, will be mostly reusable, and should touchdown on a landing pad after launching. 

Electric Vehicles

Up next, electric vehicles.

According to BloombergNEF, electric vehicles made up 7.2 percent of global car sales in the first half of 2021.

That’s up from 2.6 percent in 2019 and 4.3 percent in 2020.

Its data also shows that electric vehicles made up 3 percent of sales in North America in the first half of the year. 

Some of the new vehicles that went on sale or were planned to go on sale this year include the:

  • Ford Mustang Mach-E
  • GMC Hummer EV
  • Mercedes-Benz EQC400
  • Nissan Ariya
  • Polestar 2
  • Rivian R1T
  • Tesla Cybertruck
  • Volkswagen ID.4

In October, automaker Rivian reported that it had produced 180 R1T pickups and delivered 156 of them. 

Also in October, Lucid Motors started its first delivery of Lucid Air Dream.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certified that it can go 520 miles on a single charge, making it the longest range of any pure battery electric vehicle.

The vehicle was named MotorTrench Car of the Year that month, too. 

And in December, the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission requested documents from the company that relate to an investigation of its special purpose acquisition company merger with Churchill Capital Corp. IV earlier in the year.

No surprise, its stock shares plummeted by 10 percent when that news got out.

The Edison Electric Institute announced the new National Electric Highway Coalition in December.

The coalition includes more than 50 U.S. utility companies and cooperatives that have come together to help speed up the building of electric vehicle charging stations along the country’s highways.  

Tesla vehicles continued to be popular this year. In its third quarter that ended in October, its total production of its 3/Y and S/X models was 237,823, which is up 64 percent year over year.

Its deliveries for both models was 241,391, a 73 percent increase year over year. 

And in late October, Tesla’s market value hit $1 trillion after it made a deal to sell 100,000 vehicles to car-rental company Hertz.

Healthcare

Moving on. Next up: Healthcare and a couple of highlights from this past year.

Back in April, Neuralink released a video showing a monkey using the company’s brain chip to play the video game Pong telepathically.

The company also raised $205 million in venture backing over the summer.

It plans to start testing its brain chips in humans next year. 

Probably the biggest news in healthcare this year was the approval of the COVID-19 vaccine, which regardless of how it’s been weaponized politically, was a huge achievement and a major step forward in mRNA vaccines.

As of early December, more than 8.3 billion doses have been administered across 184 countries, including 476 million doses in the US. 

This is important because the more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, the better chance we have at overcoming the pandemic and helping slow down deadly mutations of the virus.

Environment

From your body to the world’s body, the environment.

At the end of COP26 in November, 151 countries submitted new climate plans to help cut their emissions by the year 2030.

In the fall, researchers at Linköping University in Sweden and Soochow University in China manufactured a solar cell using a solution with a high boiling point and without any toxic ingredients.

The cell’s energy efficiency is better than 17 percent.

Also this past fall, scientists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland built a plant that produces carbon-neutral liquid fuels from sunlight and air. 

In 2021, scientists at The Ohio State University discovered a way to turn hydrogen sulfide into hydrogen fuel.

Other Scientific Developments

A few other notable scientific developments include:

In July, researchers at Google along with physicists at Princeton, Stanford used Google’s quantum computer to demonstrate a genuine “time crystal.” This was something that was only first theorized a couple years ago.

Gravitational-wave observatories released a new crop of 35 events, bringing the total number of detections to 90.

The new events include the lightest neutron star ever seen, as well as two clashes involving large black holes.

Scientists confirmed that there was no evidence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus. The gas may have been mistaken for sulfur dioxide. 

On October 1, the European and Japanese BepiColombo mission made its first fly-by of Mercury.

It passed just 199 kilometers (124 miles) above the planet’s surface and took black-and-white pictures of the planet’s crater-filled surface from a distance of around 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

This year, a team at City University of Hong Kong discovered a new type of sound wave. This airbourne wave vibrates transversely and carries spin and orbital angular momentum like light does.

The discovery may help develop applications in acoustic communications, sensing, and imaging. 

It was reported in late November that scientists from the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering developed a new form of biological reproduction different from any animal or plant known to science.

They took stem cells from frogs and turned them into robots, called xenobots. Those robots began to reproduce. 

So, this is how humanity ends, right?

2022

Space

Assuming AI doesn’t eliminate the human race, we have some things to look forward to in 2022.

The James Webb Space Telescope launches on Dec. 22, 2021. Or maybe it’s launched already. We’ll know by the time this episode is released.

We should be able to start seeing images from the telescope about six months after it launches. 

SpaceX’s orbital starship may launch in January or February. It will involve a starship prototype named SN20 that has six Raptor engines and a 29-engine Super Heavy called Booster 4. 

NASA is planning to launch its megarocket called the Space Launch System in February. This rocket is part of the Artemis program, which plans to send astronauts to the Moon in 2024. 

Firefly Aerospace is aiming for its second orbital launch attempt of its Alpha rocket next year.

Relativity Space, a 3D rocket printing company, is planning the demonstration launch of its lightweight Terran 1 rocket in early 2022. 

Electric Vehicles

As far as electric vehicles are concerned, we can expect exciting new models to be released next year. Some of these include: 

  • BMW i4
  • Cadillac Lyriq
  • Ford F-150 Lightning
  • Kia EV6
  • Polestar 3
  • Rivian RS1
  • Toyota bZ4X
  • Volvo C40 Recharge

Meanwhile Tesla is projecting to reach 1.3 million deliveries in 2022 as the Giga Berlin factory goes into full production along with the Austin Gigafactory. And with any luck we’ll start to see cars delivered with the new 4680 cells

Healthcare

When it comes to health and medicine next year, I’m going to make a bold prediction: There will be more COVID-19 variants and more vaccines. I know, wild, right?

Environment

Even more wild is the alternative energy sector.

A report from S&P Global Market Intelligence says that U.S. solar and wind deployments will hit new records in 2022.

It’s expected that as much as 44 gigawatts of utility-scale solar and 27 gigawatts of wind power will come online next year.

S&P also expects 8 gigawatts of storage to be installed in 2022. This would be about six times higher than a previous record in 2020.

So that’s just kind-of a quick look at what we can expect next year, but I’d love to hear what you’re most excited about. Let me know in the comments.

As for me personally, this last year has been as weird for me as it has been for everyone else, I’m sure 2022 will innovate new and exciting kinds of weird for us to experience.

Channel wise it’s been a great year and if anybody’s curious my top 5 videos were…

I’ve got a lot of big things planned for the next year, I just purchased a lot of equipment so we can step up the quality of the videos… This one notwithstanding.

But at the end of every year, we look back on the previous year with a certain level of exhaustion and hope that the next one will be better. I’m sure 2022 will have its rough moments, but I wish the best for all of you.

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