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NASA Says It Is Sailing 'Full-Steam Ahead In Solar System Exploration'

NASA said it's moving forward with missions targeted at exploring our solar system.


Many current and future missions will help answer fundamental questions about our existence, NASA says.

As NASA prepares to take Juno's first close-up images of Jupiter on Aug. 27, the space agency announced Friday that it is "sailing full-steam ahead in solar system investigation," and hopes current and future missions will help answer fundamental questions about "how we came to be, where we are going and whether we are alone in the universe."

“Juno is the latest example of the extraordinary science we have to look forward to right in our own solar system,” said NASA Planetary Division Director Jim Green in a NASA press release. “There are many uncharted, promising worlds and objects we are eager to explore with our current and future missions.”

NASA said the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, is a powerful telescope that will allow astrophysicists to not only observe faint objects across the universe but also observe in greater detail all of the planets and their moons within our solar system.

"Webb’s angular and spectral resolution will allow us to observe these targets with unprecedented sensitivity and even follow geologic activity," NASA said in its release. 

Juno and Beyond

With Juno exploring Jupiter, NASA's curiosity has been piqued about its largest moons, including Io.

Io is one of the most volcanically active bodies in the solar system, and NASA believes research may provide some answers to its plethora of unanswered questions. NASA has also designated nine science instruments for a future mission to investigate whether Europa, which is believed to have a liquid ocean beneath its icy surface, is home to habitable environments.

With upgraded instruments on Hubble, the telescope has captured images of Jupiter’s auroras and discovered evidence of saltwater on Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. The mission will continue another five years.

Saturn continues to be explored by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which began its mission in 2004 and will culminate in 2017, and NASA plans a set of orbits, known as the Grand Finale. The spacecraft will complete 22 dives through the narrow gap between Saturn's outer atmosphere and its rings to offer new views and scientific insights, said NASA.

Cassini will be replaced by Webb in 2017, with plans to continue its exploration of one of Saturn's major satellites, Titan, which has a rich atmosphere and surface chemistry. 

Noting the one-year anniversary of the July 14, 2015, flyby of New Horizon past Pluto and its moon, Charon, NASA said the mission has been extended to "study an object in the Kuiper belt, an icy field of early building blocks of the solar system packed with primordial organics."

Other current and upcoming missions include Juno, the Mars 2020 rover and the Dawn mission to the dwarf planet Ceres will continue and in September, NASA will launch OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer), the first U.S. mission to a near-Earth asteroid (Bennu) to collect a sample for return to Earth in 2023.  NASA said OSIRIS-REx will help "unlock secrets of the history of our solar system, and shed light on how life may have come to be on our planet."