NASA Announces BillionDollar Mission Finalists

first_img NASA has been mulling over the latest additions to its mission lineup for quite some time. And there’s a lot on the line this time around — $1 billion in grants and funding, to be precise. The organization has been looking for mission plans that would have a high scientific value and be solid stepping stones for human space exploration moving forward. The two final two bids — a robe to Saturn’s moon, Titan, and another for a comet — were selected just last week.The original field of candidates included a total of 12 project proposals and included destinations from around the system. But, funding is limited, so the painstaking process of narrowing down the ones that would be the most viable and constructive on the agency’s limited budget was a challenge.Dragonfly, one of the two remaining plans, proposes a quadcopter that would be able to cover to land and surveil one of several sites on Titan. Then, it will lift off and continue gathering data as it traverses the moon. The other proposal is for a project dubbed CAESAR. Its purpose is more straightforward — grab a piece of a comet nucleus and return it safely to earth.“I selected these mission concepts based on their outstanding and visionary science,” associate administrator of NASA Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement.Indeed, both missions have a lot of potential. Titan, for instance, has been identified as among the best spots to search for life in our solar system, especially after a string of recent discoveries thanks to Cassini and other research that’s been done on the moon.Because Titan has a relatively thick atmosphere, too, flying machines might allow for a great breadth of study. Rovers only tend to cover a few hundred or possibly thousand meters during their missions. A quadcopter has a lot more flexibility in selecting its destination — but there’s also a lot more that could go wrong. And that’s especially true when you’re dealing with a communications delay. To counter this, Dragonfly is meant to be at least somewhat autonomous.“Titan is a benign environment. There isn’t a life-limiting aspect of the environment, in that sense which is nice ,” Elizabeth Turtle, Dragonfly’s lead told the Telegraph. “Dragonfly is designed to go back, build on what we’ve learned and answer the fundamental unknowns that remain about Titan.”The fact that it could gather samples from sites that are hundreds of miles apart is also exciting, not to mention that the moon has liquid oceans filled with organic molecules that could form the essential building blocks of life.CAESAR’s tack is a bit different, however. And it seeks to probe how our solar system formed. Comets are uniquely perfect for this as they contain lots of material that has been largely unaltered since the formation of the solar system. To that end, they’re like mobile frozen time capsules.Both projects have until January 2019 to continue preliminary investigation and planning. A decision will be made about which project to fund later that year, with a launch expected sometime around 2025.“This is a giant leap forward in developing our next bold mission of science discovery,” Zurbuchen said. “These are tantalizing investigations that seek to answer some of the biggest questions in our solar system today. We fly only about two of these missions per decade.” Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Stay on targetcenter_img NASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This WeekendScientists Discover Possible Interstellar Visitor last_img read more