From Donald Trump’s Impeachment to private crew in space – The many firsts of 2021

The world in the year 2021 saw a number of discoveries, achievements and inventions. Every month, there was something unprecedented happening on the globe. Be it a US president’s impeachment – a historic development in world polity, or private citizens travel to space – the year saw things that were nearly unthinkable a few years ago.

Here’s a list of firsts that took place during this year:

1) NASA enters Solar Atmosphere

For the first time in history, a spacecraft has touched the Sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has now flown through the Sun’s upper atmosphere – the corona – and sampled particles and magnetic fields there. The new milestone marks one major step for Parker Solar Probe and one giant leap for solar science.

2) An African woman becomes chief of World Trade Organization

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made history in March by becoming the first African and the first woman to serve as director-general of the World Trade Organization. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala was also the first woman to serve as finance minister in her native Nigeria, a position she held twice.

3) First woman gets presidential power in US

(19 November 2021) US Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman with presidential power in the US, when President Joe Biden temporarily transferred power to her. The US’ first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president Harris broke another barrier as she became the first woman to hold presidential powers in the country.

4) A human brain wirelessly connects to a computer

In a possible breakthrough for those with spinal cord injuries, scientists at Brown University fully connected a human brain to a computer via a transmitter device. Trial participants with paralysis were able to move robotic limbs by simply imagining their movements.

5) NASA’s Perseverance rover makes oxygen on Mars

An instrument called MOXIE — or Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment — aboard the Perseverance rover successfully converted some of the Martian atmosphere, which is composed mostly of carbon dioxide, into oxygen. While the technology is still in its early stages, it could help make future human missions to the Red Planet a reality.

6) National Geographic cartographers recognize the world’s fifth ocean

On World Oceans Day, the National Geographic Society officially recognized the swift current encircling Antarctica as the Southern Ocean. The organization, which has been publishing maps and atlases since 1915, has drawn up a new map that acknowledges the body of water, which scientists and researchers for years have distinguished as separate from the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic oceans.

6) Richard Branson becomes first private citizen to enter space in his own spaceship

In a huge step toward making astrotourism a reality, the Virgin Galactic founder won the billionaire space race, rocketing into the July sky aboard the supersonic SpaceShipTwo, a winged spacecraft developed by his company. Nine days later, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, joined the billionaire space club in his own rocket, New Shepard.

7) Astronomers see light coming from behind a black hole

Light may not be able to escape a black hole, but for the first time, astronomers observed light bending behind one — 800 million light years away from Earth. This finding, detailed in the journal Nature, once again confirmed Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

8) El Salvador becomes first country to make Bitcoin a national currency

El Salvador passed a law in September adopting Bitcoin as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar. The move was met with doubt among many Salvadorans who are skeptical of Bitcoin’s inherent volatility. Financial experts have voiced concerns that the cryptocurrency could bring further economic instability to El Salvador and encourage money laundering.

9) Dapper Dan becomes the first Black designer to receive the CFDA’s lifetime achievement award

The Council of Fashion Designers of America announced in September that Daniel Day, known as Dapper Dan, would receive its 2021 lifetime achievement award. Dapper Dan is widely known for introducing luxury fashion to the hip-hop world in the 1980s through his shop in Harlem. He is the first Black designer, as well as the first designer who has not had a solo runway show, to win the award.

10) SpaceX launches the first all-civilian crew into space

Jared Isaacman, the billionaire chief executive of Shift4 Payments, led the Inspiration4 mission to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and its four-person crew orbited Earth for three days with no professional astronauts onboard.

11) A Filipino is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in a first for her country

The journalist Maria Ressa was co-awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her enterprising reporting in the Philippines on President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial strongman tactics in the war on drugs. She is the first Filipino Nobel laureate and won the award alongside Russia’s Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which is known for its critical reporting on the Kremlin.

12) Jan 13: Trump impeached for 2nd time

Former President Donald Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice after the House charged him with inciting the Capitol insurrection.

13) 5 May: SpaceX successfully recovers Starship prototype for the first time

SN15, a Starship prototype of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, took off from the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, facility to an altitude of about 9.6 km as part of a high-altitude launch. As planned, its three Raptor engines shut down, and it then started its descent to Earth. Two of the engines restarted just before landing and SN15 made a successful touch down near its launchpad. It was the first time that SpaceX attained success in recovering a Starship prototype.