UPDATE: Dragonfly wins. See News story – NASA has limited dollars for exploring the solar system with robotic spacecraft, and it can take a decade to get such a probe to its destination. Careers are made or stalled when NASA selects a proposed mission, which is why the agency’s latest New Frontiers competition is such a high-stakes affair. Adam Hadhazy spoke to the finalists vying for the prize.
Every square meter of Mars has been photographed from orbit; its dirt has been scooped up and heated to reveal its constituent chemicals; rovers have driven for kilometers. The surface of Mars, though, has never been dug so deep. That is set to change. Cracking the surface of Mars could deliver readings that will upend tenets about planetary evolution.
Scientists are detecting exoplanets daily by the slight decrease in light from a host star as a planet transits in front of it. Photos of such a planet could tell us whether or not we are alone in the universe. Louis D. Friedman and Slava G. Turyshev think they have a solution for delivering this photographic evidence, one that will require a 900 trillion-kilometer journey and applying a phenomenon discovered by Einstein.
Precise navigation will be a necessity for safe human exploration of Mars and other celestial bodies in deep space. A pair of experiments about to get underway could change the way this navigation is done, and for the better.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, now on its way toward the sun, must survive the searing temperatures in the solar corona to unlock the processes driving the solar wind and coronal mass ejections that can harm satellites and electronics on Earth. We spoke to the scientists and engineers behind Parker’s thermal protection strategy.
The BepiColombo mission to Mercury, getting underway in October, could answer vexing questions about the innermost planet’s core and its Earth-like magnetic field. And the answers could shed light on planetary matters far beyond our solar system.
NASA’s announcement that it will add a tiny helicopter to its planned Mars 2020 rover came after a series of test flights inside a vacuum chamber proved the feasibility of adapting consumer drone technologies into a craft capable of flying in an atmosphere just 1 percent as dense as Earth’s.