2019 could be remembered as one of widening participation in spaceflight, with milestones achieved by more countries, more private companies, and by women, capping a decade of capitalist adventurers taking over much of the space industry from government.
Moon Landings - A Worldwide Endeavor
Remember when the "Space Race" was the U.S. vs. Russia? That hasn't been the case for several years, but 2019 was a year of space milestones for a couple of other countries.
China achieved a soft spacecraft landing on the far side of the moon for the first time in history, last January, starting the year off on a hopeful note.
Chang'e Lands On Far Side Of The Moon
China's Chang'e 4 lander, with its Yutu 2 rover, made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon - difficult because of the problem of communicating with something on the other side of the moon. The Chinese used satellite relays to communicate with the vehicles. The lander and rover are still there, sending pictures and data back to Earth.
For two other countries attempting to join the small fraternity of moon-exploring nations, 2019 was a year of failures. The Indian space program failed in an attempt to make that country the fourth, after the U.S., Russia and China, to make a soft landing on the moon. The Chandrayaan-2 was attempting to land on the unexplored South Pole of the moon but its lander was lost.
Another country also tried to be the fourth to the moon as Israel's unmanned lunar lander Beresheet attempted a moon landing in April. Its effort was also unsuccessful, though.
Japan Explores An Asteroid, UAE Sends A Man To Space
Japan also made a major mark in space work in 2019. Its asteroid exploration mission Hayabusa-2 made a second touchdown on an asteroid to collect samples, and was headed back to Earth late in the year.
Several countries saw their first satellite launched into space in 2019, including Ethiopia, Nepal and Rwanda. The internationalization of space travel also saw a milestone with the September flight of Hazzaa al-Mansoori to the International Space Station on a Russian vehicle. al-Mansoori became the first astronaut in space from the United Arab Emirates.
Commercial Moon Attempt Milestone In Space Privatization
As much as the Beresheet launch was an important milestone for Israel, the attempt may have been more of a landmark because it was the first non-governmental mission to the moon.
The Beresheet project came out of the Google Lunar X Prize, an Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) competition aimed at spurring private lunar exploration. Beresheet was co-developed by non-profit SpaceIL, though state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries was a partner on the project.
Virgin Galactic Goes Public
It was also a big year for another private space company, as Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) went public in late October. Virgin Galactic, founded by billionaire adventurer Richard Branson, is in a race with SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin to begin operating commercial space tourism flights - though none of the three companies is yet to set a date for when that might actually happen.
For Elon Musk's SpaceX, 2019 was a year of continued success as it launched its new crew vehicle to the International Space Station, testing for a future when it will do so with a crew as the U.S. space effort seeks to turn over its manned missions to private companies.
Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) also is involved in those plans, though its first attempt to send its unmanned Starliner spacecraft to dock with the ISS was a failure.
All Female Space Walk
It was also a milestone year in space for women.
In October, Jessica Meir and Christa Koch made history when they took spacewalks at the same time - the first all-female spacewalk. They spent more than seven hours working outside of the ISS to repair a power unit - taking a short break to take a call from President Donald Trump.
While working on launching satellites and moon probes close to home were the big space exploration events of the year, 2019 started with the return of pictures from a very distant space object.
On Jan. 1, the New Horizons unmanned space probe sent back an image of an object in the Kuiper Belt called Arrokoth, which kind of looked like a big snowman. The images could give scientists important insight into planet development.
'Star Wars' Saga Comes To An End(?)
It wouldn't be a space story without some mention of "Star Wars." The third "Star Wars" trilogy, and supposedly final episode of the nine-film series that began in 1977, debuted Dec. 21.
Walt Disney Co (NYSE: DIS) said "Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker" earned about $374 million in worldwide tickets sales; $176 million of that total came in the U.S. and Canada. That $176 million ranks as the 12th-biggest opening of all time in the U.S.