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.
Low Density Supersonic Decelerator: Spacecraft must safely decelerate from the high speed of atmospheric entry in order to land safely on a planet. To prepare for future human expeditions to Mars, NASA is developing the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which seeks to use atmospheric drag as a solution, saving rocket engines and fuel for final maneuvers and landing procedures. However, the heavier planetary landers of tomorrow will require much larger drag devices than any now in use. And, those devices must deploy at higher supersonic speeds to safely land vehicle, crew and cargo. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is conducting full-scale, stratospheric tests of the breakthrough LDSD technology to address these concerns and prove its value for future Mars missions.
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.