Best of 2021: A Stellar Year for Human Achievement

(Editor’s note: With 2o21 drawing to a close, it’s time to look back on the innovations that the year brought us. Read about the great leaps forward in the transportation sector here, and the improvements in healthcare here!)

In 2017, NASA launched the Artemis Project designed to reinvigorate space exploration and development. Ever since, the advances made in this sector have been both tremendous and at an accelerated pace. The year 2021 was no exception, in this regard, and may perhaps be the most impressive to date. A variety of space innovations took place this year, including a few successful human launches into low-Earth orbit. These achievements in space highlight not only NASA’s commitment to success. With this in mind, the following provide an overview of the many achievements in space made this year.

  • Billionaires Race Into Space

SpaceX made headlines when it successfully transported two crew members to the International Space Station in its Falcon 9 in 2020. In this regard, Elon Musk was among the first to demonstrate that private industry space innovations offered clear advantages. But in 2021, two other billionaires attracted the spotlight as they sent civilians into low-Earth orbit. Sir Richard Branson was the first, sending six passengers into space on July 12th on Virgin Galactic’s Unity22. (What’s next for the billionaire space race? Read this Bold story and find out!) Then, less than two weeks later, Jeff Bezos followed suit with similar achievements in space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard. Of course, civilian travel into low-Earth orbit is far from being routine just yet. But this year, it became evident that these days are not far off into the future.

  • The Human Landing System Moves Ahead

Also, this year, NASA decided to award its Human Landing System contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The contract was worth $2.9 billion for developing space innovations that could provide routine lunar shittle service. Other bidders for the contract included Blue Origin and Dynetics, and neither were happy with NASA’s decision. In fact, both have filed inquiries into the bidding process with the General Accountability Office. Regardless, it is clear that NASA is serious about aggressively moving forward with this project. If all goes well, space travelers will reach lunar orbit aboard Lockheed Martin’s Orion. Then, SpaceX’s Starship will shuttle them back and forth to the moon from there. The timetable for these incredible achievements in space is set for 2024.

  • Space Services, Assembly, and Manufacturing

One of NASA’s key targets for achievements in space involves on-site services, assembly, and manufacturing. By performing these tasks in space, it significantly reduces the amount of cargo that must be transported. Therefore, NASA has awarded several contracts to other businesses in the private sector for this purpose. For example, Elementum 3D is involved in developing space innovations related to 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Martian Sky Technologies is creating a process by which space debris can be removed from low-Earth orbit zines. And NASA awarded over 14 contracts to companies as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Service program. This program is best described as Lunar-Travel-as-a-Service, as NASA only pays for the services it needs. This is the latest strategy NASA is employing to reduce government costs and shift burdens to private industry.

  • Space Innovations in Propulsion and Energy Systems

Not only have space innovations occurred in direct services and manufacturing but also in various energy systems. In order for other achievements in space to become a reality, these systems will be essential. And like other materials, the production of propulsion devices in space offer advantages related to reduced cargo transport. Some companies are therefore developing methods by which Hall Effect thrusters can be created remotely in space. At the same time, other businesses are looking at developing different types of batteries for energy storage. Specifically, Talos Tech and the University of Delaware believe atmospheric carbon dioxide could serve as a battery reactant. Both of these areas took major steps this year in moving these concepts off the drawing board and toward reality.

  • Achievements in Space Construction

Currently, the International Space Station continues to serve an important role in space expeditions and research. But its days are limited, and eventually, new facilities will be needed. This includes NASA’s long-term vision where structures will be created on the moon itself. Understanding this, space innovations will be required in the field of construction, and many advances are already being made. For example, Astrosport Space Technologies plans to create bricks in space made from lunar dust. In fact, construction of a lunar launch pad will presumably made from these types of bricks. Likewise, achievements in space robotics are also advancing as well, which will also be essential for remote construction. Companies like TRAC Lab and Astrobotic made significant progress this year in these areas. These types of space innovations will complement other services and production systems well.

  • Space and Broadband Connectivity

Toward the end of this year, the current administration was successful in passing the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Within this bill, roughly $65 billion have been allotted to the creation of broadband Internet access throughout the nation. While this does not directly reflect one of the key achievements in space, it nonetheless supports them. Specifically, SpaceX’s Starlink system could be among the Internet service providers that gain access to these funds. Elon Musk’s plan to create a network of low-Earth orbital satellites for global Internet access is quickly becoming a reality. In fact, the number of Starlink satellites placed exceeded 1,500 in number this year. Amazon similarly is attempting to create a similar system using its Kuiper satellites as is the United Kingdom. But thus far, Starlink is leading the way in these types of space innovations.

Some scientist doing space science stuff
2021’s achievements in space travel made for a memorable year.

From Novelty to Routine

Without question, many achievements in space occurred in 2021 in a variety of areas. Despite limited Congressional funding, NASA is finding ways to aggressively move forward with a number of space innovations. Strategies that lean on private industry and lease services rather than own them reflect such strategies. And based on this year’s progress, this approach seems to be working. Many “first” are now occurring that have never been seen previously. But soon, repetition and familiarity will allow many services and activities to become increasingly routine. In this regard, the potential for the rate of space innovations to increase more rapidly is tremendous in future years. Yes, the year 2021 certainly saw its share of achievements in space. But these are likely just a preview for many more to come.


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The Recipe for a Bitcoin Mining Boomtown

It’s been a volatile year for cryptocurrencies, with several ups and downs over several months. But despite some setbacks, Bitcoin and other digital currency are expected to be the future. Companies like PayPal are increasingly expanding their markets to provide cryptocurrency services. And digital coin enthusiasts see it as the obvious next-step in finance. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges ahead for the cryptocurrency world. Notably, energy and environmental concerns are among the foremost cryptocurrency mining problems currently. But that doesn’t seem to be deterring too many bitcoin mining farm companies thus far. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

(Read more about the world’s approach to accepting digital currency–and the resulting complexities–in this Bold story.)

Throughout the country, cryptocurrency mining companies are securing facilities for their operations. But instead of building such facilities from scratch, the trend has been to find old, abandoned industrial factories. Many of these structures are ideal for a bitcoin mining farm with many necessities already in place. Deserted aluminum, steel, and denim factories are being suddenly turned into cryptocurrency mining headquarters. While this may seem beneficial to some local economies, many residents oppose these new developments. In essence, they question whether the benefits justify the cryptocurrency mining problems that go along with them.

“…[C]ertain places like the old Alcoa [aluminum] factories are some of the most popular, because they’re very large buildings with a lot of installed electrical infrastructure, and the buildings were designed to remove heat, so they become natural places for [cryptocurrency] mining.” -Mike Colyer, CEO of Foundry

The Perfect Place for a Bitcoin Mining Farm

When it comes to finding the ideal spot for a bitcoin mining farm, there are several features to consider. Structures must be large and open in order to accommodate hundreds of banks of computers and their associated ventilation needs. Likewise, as has been recognized as one of the cryptocurrency mining problems, they must have access to cheap, abundant energy. Typically, this means the ideal location is rural in nature whether energy costs tend to be less expensive. They must also have available water supplies, which can be used to cool mining operations and potentially provide hydroelectric power. Old factories and warehouses meeting these criteria are the ones that are now in high demand. (Dive deeper into the dark side of Bitcoin mining in this Bold story.)

Currently, there are several hotspots for bitcoin mining farm development. One of the most popular areas is in western and northern New York. Plants that were previously used for aluminum, steel, and coal production have sat vacant for years. But they provide all the needs a bitcoin mining farm might need. Other popular regions include rural North Carolina. Some cryptocurrency mining farms now exist in deserted denim factories previously owned by Levi Strauss. Using these types of old facilities offers a great way to tap into existing structures and revitalize some rural areas. But cryptocurrency mining problems exist as well, making this revitalization somewhat bittersweet for some.

“It has been easy for these [cryptocurrency mining] companies to fly under the radar because the whole industry is confusing to understand…It’s too new of an industry not to be regulated federally or statewide in respect to greenhouse gas emission and the effect on water and air.” – Anna R. Kelles, New York State Assembly Person

The Environmental Debate Over Cryptocurrency Mining

A bitcoin mining farm, regardless of its size, is known to require tremendous amounts of energy. Hundreds of computers are required to perform the necessary computations of blockchain. In fact, some existing mining farms use enough electricity to power 85,000 homes. But electricity and energy are not the only concerns when it comes to cryptocurrency mining problems. These same facilities also require an abundance of water, whether it’s in the form of a coolant or a hydroelectric source. It is not uncommon for a bitcoin mining farm to use 100 million gallons of water a day for cooling alone. Given that water scarcity is a real concern for the future, many see this as equally important cryptocurrency mining problems.

A dude operating a Bitcoin mining farm
Want to make a Bitcoin mining farm? Be prepared to use a lot of electricity.

To highlight concerns over these cryptocurrency mining problems, specific examples can be provided. Greenidge Generations recently took over an old coal plant in at Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The plant currently takes millions of gallons out of the lake to cool its mining computers. It them returns the water, at a much warmer temperature, to nearby trout streams. While the company denies any environmental harms are occurring, others disagree. Likewise, they’re concerned that the significant demands for energy that a bitcoin mining farm requires will have long-term negative effects. Even if these mining plants use renewable energy sources, it might limit access to these energy sources for others. In turn, this would drive the use of fossil fuels all over again.

“A lot of industry has left over the years, and here we are trying to bring Digihost in and people are fighting us on that.” – Robert Pecoraro, President of the Common Council in North Tonawanda, N.Y.

An Economic Boom for Some Rural Areas

Without question, many rural communities find the economic benefits of a bitcoin mining farm appealing. Digihost, which took over a natural gas-powered plant near Buffalo, is creating new jobs for the community. Plus, the use of municipal water resources will provide a $1 million windfall for the city. Cryptocurrency mining problems aside, these perks make it difficult to turn down cryptocurrency mines. That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, but these benefits certainly make for a more difficult decision.

In the long-term, cryptocurrency mining problems must be addressed. China, which once led the world in cryptocurrency mining, has since banned the practice. This was done in an effort to meet its carbon reduction goals. The same considerations must now take place in the U.S. as well, where bitcoin mining farm presence is ever-increasing. Whether regulatory oversight occurs at a local, state or federal level is yet to be determined. But it’s clear that the digital gold rush is in full swing, and there’s a boom in U.S. cryptocurrency mining farms. The sooner such oversight occurs, the better.


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