This Year In Space

There’s a lot to be excited about this year, especially if the study of outerspace is your thing.

New Year’s Day ushered in the Curiosity rover’s 500th sol (or Martian day) and her mission isn’t over. Curiosity’s ready for the coming year, showing us her excitement by tweeting: “Goals for 2014: Finish driving to Mars’ Mount Sharp & do all the science I can.” Once at Mount Sharp (officially called Aeolis Mons), Curiosity will test for water and organic molecules in sedimentary rock layers, as her search for life continues.

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Panoramic of Mount Sharp taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

With Curiosity considered a success, NASA has moved on to their next Mars project. The mission, called Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, MAVEN for short, will explore the thin atmosphere hovering above the red planet. Data from the probe, which launched this past November, should tell us about the planet’s history in terms of atmosphere, climate, and liquid water. We won’t see results until mid-to-late 2014, as the journey to Mars takes a long 10 months.

India is also hosting their own Mars Orbiter Mission, but the mission’s goals aren’t solely about Mars. Three of the four listed goals were about developing the technology to achieve deep space exploration, including design and realization of a Mars orbiter, long-range communication, and the creation and addition of autonomous features in the spacecraft. The probe was launched in early December and is expected to travel 300 days before reaching Mars. Once there, the probe will remain in orbit to study surface features such as morphology, mineralogy, and atmosphere composition.

In a final exciting mission, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will finally reach its target. The European Space Agency has been playing the long game, as one must do when playing in outerspace. The probe first launched in 2004 and only now (and by now I mean in almost a year) is it coming in contact with its target. The plan is to both orbit and land on the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko. If successful, Rosetta will be the first probe to land on a comet and give us the first images of what the surface actually looks like. Part of the probe will stay in orbit to collect gas and dust samples from the coma (the head of the comet) and the tail.

I expect there will be a lot of news coming from these projects in 2014 and 2015. I’m most excited about the photos the probes will send back, especially from the Rosetta spacecraft. Everything we know about the surface of comets is a well-educated guess. Now we’ll finally confirm or, even more exciting, disprove that guess. We’re exploring new frontiers and proving that that exploration isn’t dead. It’s a good time to be alive.

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