The experience, expertise and capabilities needed to explore are available to us today through platforms such as the International Space Station, the James Webb Space Telescope, the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, New Horizons and more. These programs are shaping our ability to place footprints on Mars, to understand the genesis of our solar system and to build a better life here on Earth.
International Space Station: The ISS is a test-bed and stepping stone for the challenging journey ahead. Building upon lessons learned here, we will prepare astronauts for the challenges of long-duration flight and the permanent expansion of human exploration beyond where we have been before.
James Webb Space Telescope: The JWST is a new eye on the universe that will allow us to see farther into space and time than ever before. Designed and constructed by Northrop Grumman, the telescope is being built on a legacy of scientific instruments, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
New Horizons: New Horizons is a NASA space probe launched in 2006 to study the dwarf planet Pluto, its moons and more. It awoke from its final hibernation in December 2014 after traveling 3 billion miles and will pass close to Pluto, inside the orbits of its five known moons, on July 14, 2015. Since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has remained an enigma. Images from New Horizons beginning in January 2015 reveal bright and dark regions on the surface of Pluto, and are helping scientists learn more about this distant planet.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover – also known by it’s “official” name, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) – is the largest and most complex package of science instruments ever launched to the surface of Mars. Curiosity, as the rover is called for short, has now been on the Martian surface for four years, exploring and collecting data. NASA is using Curiosity as part of its evolving strategy for Mars exploration, which makes use of a series of rovers and robotic spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet, to explore for water, help us to understand in what ways Mars may support human life (habitability), to seek signs of past or present microbial life on Mars itself, and to prepare for human exploration of Mars in the next two decades. NASA’s fact sheet on the MSL may be found here:
Mission video file: http://mars.nasa.gov/