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NASA Developing Technology For Human Missions to Moon, Mars

NASA said its series of crewed missions to Mars, planned to start in the 2030's and culminating in a surface landing, would be supported by the work it does on the Moon in the coming years

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NASA's InSight spacecraft touches down on Mars. Pixabay
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Revealing its human explorations plans, NASA has told the US Congress that the agency is currently focusing on developing technologies and systems that enable a series of human and robotic lunar missions that are extensible to Mars.

The “National Space Exploration Campaign” that NASA submitted to the Congress on September 24 calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos, the US space agency said in a statement on Thursday.

The campaign has five strategic goals, including returning US astronauts to the surface of the Moon to demonstrating the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.

NASA said it intends to transition from the current model of human space activities in low-Earth orbit to a model where the government is only one customer for commercial services.

The US space agency is building a plan for Americans to orbit the Moon starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s.

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The campaign has five strategic goals, including returning US astronauts to the surface of the Moon to demonstrating the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations. Flickr

A key component of establishing the first permanent American presence and infrastructure on and around the Moon is the Gateway, a lunar orbiting platform to host astronauts farther from Earth than ever before, NASA said.

Some elements of the Gateway already are under construction at NASA centers across the United States, including facilities in Ohio, Texas and Alabama, and at commercial partner facilities.

The Gateway will be assembled in space, incrementally, using the Orion spacecraft and SLS, as well as commercial launch vehicles. The first element, providing power and propulsion, will launch from Florida in 2022, NASA added in the statement.

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“The lunar surface will serve as a crucial training ground and technology demonstration test site where we will prepare for future human missions to Mars and other destinations,” NASA said, adding that by the late 2020s, a lunar lander capable of transporting crews and cargo will begin trips to the surface of the Moon.

NASA said its series of crewed missions to Mars, planned to start in the 2030’s and culminating in a surface landing, would be supported by the work it does on the Moon in the coming years. (IANS)

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NASA’s Probe Discovers Signs Of Water on Asteroid Bennu

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid's gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

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This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has discovered ingredients for water on a relatively nearby skyscraper-sized asteroid, a rocky acorn-shaped object that may hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists said on Monday.

OSIRIS-REx, which flew last week within a scant 12 miles (19 km) of the asteroid Bennu some 1.4 million miles (2.25 million km) from Earth, found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules — part of the recipe for water and thus the potential for life — embedded in the asteroid’s rocky surface.

The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth. There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

 

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx. Flickr

 

“We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

“When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system,” Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement.

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This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. The rocky remnant from the dawn of the solar system may hold clues to the origins of life. VOA

“We’re really trying to understand the role that these carbon-rich asteroids played in delivering water to the early Earth and making it habitable,” Lauretta added.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain. From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

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The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023. (VOA)