Taken by astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft, this December 1968 photo of Earth rising over the lunar surface would become one of the most famous images of the 20th century. Credit: NASA
NASA heads into 2010 with the bittersweet assignment of retiring the space shuttle after nearly three decades. But that’s not all the agency has planned: There are also launches of three new satellites aimed at better understanding the Earth’s climate and oceans, and the sun.
Two of the probes will examine Earth — specifically the concentration of salt in the world’s oceans and the presence of aerosol particles, such as soot, in the atmosphere. A third mission will study the sun and its effect on space weather including solar flares that can disrupt communication on Earth.
All three come at a critical time for NASA. Data from the two Earth probes will likely influence global-warming research, and the trio of launches could serve as bright spots in a year otherwise dominated by debate over the future of the agency’s manned space program.
“They are extraordinary timely,” said Michael Freilich, head of NASA’s Earth-science division, of the two Earth probes. “It is a quest for understanding of the Earth system and [to improve] our ability to predict how our wonderful environment and our planet is going to change in the future.”
Combined, the three missions will cost more than $1.5 billion.
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The ExoMars programme will be launched in partnership with NASA. Credit: ESA
The European Space Agency, in collaboration with NASA, will launch two Mars exploration
missions in 2016 and 2018.
The ExoMars mission will be undertaken to probe the Martian atmosphere, especially astrobiological issues and to develop and demonstrate new technologies for planetary exploration with a long-term view of a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020s, ESA said.
The project, for which around $1.2 billion (850 million euro) has been sanctioned, will include an Orbiter plus an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator, to be launched in 2016, and two rovers which would be sent in 2018.
“This marks an important moment for Europe in its steps towards space exploration on the world scale,” David Southwood, Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, said.
“We have been to the planets before, sure. But now we have a plan for exploration ahead to build our technical capability and explore Mars in a long-term partnership,” he said.
Eleven of ESA’s 17 member states are participating in the project.
Source: BNS (Paris)
NASA says it would take almost a year using conventional rockets to get to Mars. By that time a human body would likely turn to jello due to exposure to space radiation. But the space agency has come up with a solution – in fact two of them.
First they want to build the nuclear rocket (Project Prometheus) which NASA says would cut in half the amount of time it would take to get to the red planet. With nuclear reactors for engines NASA also says they could carry heavier payloads which would make it possible to “mine the sky” for precious minerals.
The other solution to the space radiation problem seems to rely on testing monkeys by exposing them to doses of radiation so NASA can further study the effects on the human body.
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