- In the past year, NASA has announced plans to return humans to the moon and search for life on one of Saturn’s moons with a nuclear-powered helicopter.
- NASA’s 10-year plan also includes missions to probe the metal core of a dead planet, scan for alien life in a subsurface ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa, and photograph the Big Bang.
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NASA’s 10-year plan involves billions of dollars and spans millions of miles. And much like the universe, it’s only expanding.
Last year, the agency announced that it’s planning to send astronauts back to the moon and eventually build a base there, with a Mars-bound mission to follow in the years after that. In June, the agency introduced a mission that aims to fly a nuclear-powered helicopter over the surface of Titan, an icy moon of Saturn’s, to scan for alien life. NASA wants to looking for life in other places too, like the ocean below the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Other future missions will try to photograph our entire cosmic history and map the dark matter and dark energy that govern our universe.
Here are some of NASA’s biggest and most ambitious plans for the coming decade.
Several ground-breaking NASA missions are already in progress, including the Parker Solar Probe, which will will rocket past the sun a total of 24 times.
NASA Goddard / Youtube
Launched: August 12, 2018
Arrived: November 5, 2018
The probe is traveling closer to the sun than anything from Earth before it. The mission aims to investigate the forces behind solar wind, which could inform efforts to protect technology on Earth from the sun’s flare-ups.
Parker slingshots around the sun at record speeds of up to 213,200 mph; it’s currently approaching its third close encounter. A powerful heat shield keeps the spacecraft’s equipment cool.
Far from the sun, New Horizons is exploring the Kuiper Belt, a region of millions of chunks of ice left over from the solar system’s birth.
Launched: January 19, 2006
Arrived at Ultima Thule: January 1, 2019
The New Horizons spacecraft visited Pluto and the ice dwarfs surrounding it in 2015. In January, the spacecraft reached the farthest object anything human-made has ever visited: a snowman-shaped space rock called 2014 MU69 (or Ultima Thule).
It sent back the following video of Ultima Thule, though it will likely take until late 2020 for scientists to receive and download all the data from New Horizons’ flyby.
So far, we’ve learned that the primordial object contains methanol, water ice, and organic molecules.
On the surface of Mars, the InSight lander is listening for quakes.
Launched: May 5, 2018
Arrived: November 26, 2018
Since the InSight lander touched down on the surface of the red planet, it has detected dozens of Mars quakes. The early data is giving scientists new insight into the planet’s internal structure.
- ‘We want our country to do it first’: A NASA executive says a US-China Mars mission is not in the cards
- There could be up to 10 billion warm and cozy Earth-like planets in our home galaxy, new research reveals
- Dead planets can ‘broadcast’ for up to a billion years, and they could tell astronomers what will happen after our sun blows up