Current & future NASA Missions

CASSINI-Unlocking Saturn’s Secrets

Launched a while back, this mission is exploring Saturn, its rings and its 31 moons. Sending back some incredible photos and scientific data. The mission, launched in 1997 is still giving us new insight as to the conditions on Saturn.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute Image addition date: 2011-09-12

 

MARS Exploration Rovers- Spirit (RIP) and  Opportunity

Going on 8 YEARS now, these rovers have wandered around the surface of Mars snapping pics, drilling holes, and examining rocks and other topographical features. One Rover remains, Opportunity. Spirit ran out of juice 6 years after it landed, thanks to the delicious Mars red dust. Only expected to last 6 months, 8 years of roving is quite the accomplishment; and the one remaining Rover to rule them all is still going!

MARS Science Laboratory: Curiosity Rover

Scheduled to land this August (2012), this rover, the largest to date, will join Opportunity on surveying the Martian Landscape.  However, this rover contains more gadgets than Martha Stewart’s kitchen:they include a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer, an X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument called CheMin, Mars Hand Lens Imager will take extreme close-up pictures of rocks, soil and, if present, ice, revealing details smaller than the width of a human hair, Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, an instrument named ChemCam will use laser pulses to vaporize thin layers of material from Martian rocks or soil targets up to 9 meters (30 feet) away, The rover’s Radiation Assessment Detector will characterize the radiation environment at the surface of Mars.  “The overarching science goal of the mission is to assess whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life, both its habitability and its preservation.”

 

MAVEN: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission is part of NASA’s Mars Scout program. Set to launch in 2013, the mission will explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind.The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. Where did the atmosphere – and the water – go?  MAVEN will determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time.

MAVEN core structure lowered onto the propulsion tank at Lockheed Martin in Denver. (IMAGE CREDIT: LOCKHEED MARTIN)