NASA’s next set of flagship-class planetary missions

NASA’s last decadal survey report issued in 2011 set NASA’s foremost planetary science objectives as a Mars sample return mission and a probe to Europa.

NASA’s next Mars rover set for launch in 2020 will collect and store rock specimens for retrieval and return to Earth by a future mission, fulfilling the first step in a multi-mission odyssey to bring back samples from the red planet’s surface. NASA formally approved the Europa flyby probe earlier this year to assess the icy moon’s habitability.

The candidates for the round beyond that include:

Cassini makes final flyby of Dione

A pockmarked, icy landscape looms beneath NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in new images of Saturn’s moon Dione taken during the mission‘s last close approach to the small, icy world. Two of the new images show the surface of Dione at the best resolution ever.

Cassini passed 295 miles (474 kilometers) above Dione‘s surface at 11:33 a.m. PDT (2:33 p.m. EDT) on August 17, 2015. This was the fifth close encounter with Dione during Cassini’s long tour at Saturn. The mission’s closest-ever flyby of Dione was in December 2011, at a distance of 60 miles (100 kilometers).

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A spectacular video of the Earth and its Moon

A NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a unique view of the moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth last month. The series of test images shows the fully illuminated “dark side” of the moon that is never visible from Earth.

NASA’s superb outreach on the internet

How they did it.

Pluto flyby – the back stories

The people of Pluto

The “Apollo 13” moment of New Horizons

New Horizons flyby of Pluto

New Horizons successfully flew by Pluto today, making its closest approach this morning. Interestingly, this milestone happened exactly 50 years to the day after Mariner 4’s historic first fly-by of Mars.

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False color images of Puto and Charon.

False color images of Puto and Charon.

Less than 2 days to Pluto close approach

Imagine a trip in time to tell your great-grandparents this:

“There’s a world 12,000 times as far away from Earth as our moon, that you don’t know exists. On this world, our Sun looks like a bright star, and it’s so cold there that everything there is ice.

We built a machine to visit this world. It rose on a pillar of fire and became the fastest human-built object ever. It’s powered by the decay of the most elemental particles of matter. Here is a photograph that planet, which thismachine has taken and is sending back through space. I am viewing that planet on a little box that I put in my pocket.”

1 day, 18 hours, 54 minutes to Pluto close approach.

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Rosetta in intermittent contact with Philae comet lander

The Rosetta spacecraft regained communications with the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on June 13, 2015. Communications has been interittent, and the most recent communications was on July 9. Rosetta continues to take photos and other measures of the comet, as it approaches perihelion.

This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image was taken from a distance of 85.7 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on March 14, 2015. Image credit: European Space Agency

This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image was taken from a distance of 85.7 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on March 14, 2015.
Image credit: European Space Agency

New Horizons on final approach to Pluto

Ponder the title of this post” “New Horizons on final approach to Pluto”. Wow! The spacecraft has made its final course correction burn and the flyby will be on July 14, 2015.

Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Northrop Grumman proposes unmanned aircraft to probe Venusian atmosphere

Northrop Grumman is developing an inflatable, propeller-powered aircraft called Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) for a years-long cruise over Venus.

Image credit: Northrop Grumman

Image credit: Northrop Grumman