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May 29, 2024

NASA Sets Sights on Ambitious Space Exploration Goals for 2024

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Dec 29, 2023

2024 is shaping up to be a monumental year for NASA and space exploration. With key missions to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and beyond, NASA has laid out an ambitious roadmap to unlock mysteries of our solar system and prepare for future human deep space missions.

Return to the Moon – The Artemis Program

After decades of absence, NASA is gearing up to return humans to the lunar surface by 2024 under the Artemis program. Artemis 1, an uncrewed test flight to the Moon, launched successfully in late 2022 paving the way for crewed Artemis 2 flight in 2024.

Artemis 2 will be a 10 day mission to test critical systems for sustained human habitation in deep space and demonstrate precision landing capabilities on the Moon in preparation for the Artemis 3 crewed lunar landing. The crew will be propelled towards the Moon atop NASA’s massive new 322 foot tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which generates 8.8 million pounds of thrust powered by four RS-25 engines reused from the Space Shuttle program.

Artemis 2 Mission Overview

|Crew Size|Mission Duration|Main Objectives|
:–|:–|:–|
|4 astronauts|10 days|Test life support systems for deep space, high-speed reentry and splashdown procedures, demonstrate precision landing technologies|

Artemis 2 will see the debut of NASA’s Orion spacecraft which has been specifically engineered to ferry humans farther into space than ever before. Orion will stay in lunar orbit while crew aboard conduct critical science experiments, test next-gen space communications systems, and assess how food, body fluids, exercise routines hold up on longer duration missions.

With its shakedown cruise deemed successful, all eyes will turn to Artemis 3 currently slated to land two astronauts on the Moon for the first time since 1972. NASA ultimately aims to establish permanent human presence on the Moon under the Artemis program to learn how to live and work for extended periods in the harsh deep space radiation environment. These lessons will directly feed forward to future Mars missions.

Unraveling Jupiter Moon Mysteries – Europa Clipper

NASA is also pushing ahead with plans to explore Jupiter’s icy ocean moon Europa. Slated to launch in late 2024, the Europa Clipper will conduct a detailed survey of Europa to determine if conditions suitable for life exist in the subsurface ocean lying beneath the moon’s icy exterior. Europa holds major astrobiology appeal given the presence of liquid water which is thought to be critical for the emergence of life.

After a nearly 6 year cruise, Clipper will achieve orbit around Jupiter and conduct 45 close flybys of Europa from altitudes as low as 16 miles above the surface. Clipper carries an advanced instrument payload including ice penetrating radar to map the ocean depth, cameras for surface imaging, spectrometers to analyze surface composition, magnetometers to gauge subsurface ocean salinity, and more tools to assess surface habitability. With icy plumes frequently erupting from Europa, Clipper may even be able to directly sample the interior ocean without having to land.

While the primary goal is to gather data for future landing missions, Clipper could provide the first conclusive evidence of life beyond Earth by measuring biosignatures like molecular oxygen, methane, oxidants, and organics in the ice. NASA maintains the Clipper could discover conditions capable of supporting life if it exists on Europa.

First Mars Sample Return Mission

Bridging the Moon and Mars exploration vision, NASA intends to launch an ambitious Mars Sample Return mission consisting of multiple spacecraft collaborating to retrieve pristine Martian samples and transport them to state of the art labs back on Earth for analysis. Launch windows open in 2026 and 2028 for the various elements, but 2024 marks a critical juncture for mission development with all components nearing final assembly.

The Sample Retrieval Lander and Mars Ascent Vehicle will launch well ahead of the ESA Earth Return Orbiter and NASA Sample Return Orbiter. After collecting samples from diverse locations the lander will robotically transfer them to the Mars Ascent Vehicle which will blast off from Mars and propel the sample container into orbit. The Earth Return Orbiter will capture the sample in Mars orbit and ferry it back to Earth for a high speed reentry and airborne capture. With Mars material carefully secured, ships will transport the samples to biosafety level 4 containment labs where scientists can conduct destructive chemical, biological, and geological research impossible with robotic rovers.

Findings promise to profoundly reshape understanding of Mars astrobiology and evolution – addressing questions on past habitability, potential biomarker detection, toxicology, and resource utilization studies key for sending astronauts in coming decades.

Proposed Mars Sample Retrieval Architecture

Mars sample return mission profile overview

Overview of the various elements comprising NASA & ESA’s Mars Sample Return campaign launching later this decade. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Other Notable Missions Taking Shape

Beyond the Moon, Mars, and Europa, NASA has several other trailblazing missions gearing up for launch in 2024:

  • Psyche: NASA’s first robotic mission to explore a rare metal asteroid also thought to be the exposed iron core of a primordial protoplanet. Set to arrive in 2030, findings could shed light on terrestrial planet formation.
  • SPICA: An infrared space telescope with 100x greater sensitivity than prior missions to study galaxy/stellar evolution and formation of planets, comets, and asteroids. A collaboration between JAXA and ESA for launch to deep space Lagrange point L2.
  • DAVINCI+: A probe to descend through the high cloud layers of Venus and capture first high resolution images of unique geological formations on Venusian surface. It will also precisely measure atmospheric composition to understand why Venus diverged from a possibly once habitable environment to its current inhospitable state.

These ambitious missions promise to secure vital knowledge for future exobiology studies and safeguarding planet Earth.

The Road Ahead

With a stunning assortment of missions launching, 2024 undoubtedly represents a watershed moment as NASA dramatically accelerates space exploration activities. Following years building up mission portfolios under the Artemis program, all eyes are fixed on putting boots back on lunar ground by 2025 at the South Pole – a prime location with fluctuating shadow regions rich in frozen volatile deposits critical to sustain human civilization off-Earth long term.

Once a sustainable presence takes root on and above the Moon under the lunar Gateway outpost, astronauts will stand primed for history making journeys deeper into our solar system – starting with Mars expeditions late next decade. Before astronauts, an armada of robotic pathfinders is preparing the way addressing hazards from radiation exposures to zero-gravity impacts ensuring safe passage in due time.

By returning samples from other worlds, cosmologists also edge closer to probing profound questions on our place in the universe and if life exists beyond this pale blue dot. Fortune favors the bold – and 2024 stands poised to deliver roaring back humanity’s daring spirit of space exploration echoing Apollo era ambitions to benefit life back home and propel our species light years beyond terrestrial shores.

References

Article compiled from the following sources:

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/space-missions-launch-2024-artemis-clipper-viper-moon-mars/
[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/space-missions-launch-2024-artemis-clipper-viper-moon-mars/
[3] https://www.space.com/spaceflight-missions-to-watch-2024
[4] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg26034712-700-international-fleet-of-spacecraft-is-heading-to-the-moon-in-2024/
[5] https://www.theverge.com/2023/12/27/24016967/nasa-has-a-2024-space-trailer

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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