NASA just gave a thumbs-up for 8 crucial space missions

Holy cow.
Brad Bergan
OSIRIS-REx collecting a sample from the asteroid Bennu (left), and InSight on Mars (right).1, 2

In space, it's never too late.

That is, until NASA says it's game over.

But, after completing a post-mission evaluation of several NASA spacecraft, the agency has decided to extend eight missions, in light of their high scientific productivity, and each mission's potential to vastly expand and deepen our grasp of our solar system, and the great mystery beyond, according to a blog post on NASA's official website.

And with 12 more missions in development or deployment stages, the U.S. space agency is working with public and private partners worldwide to ensure that the 21st century is a most decidedly excellent century for science in space.

Eight lucky NASA missions just earned an extension

The renewed missions include New Horizons, OSIRIS-REx, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, InSight Lander, Mars Science Laboratory (we call it Curiosity), MAVEN, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Mars Odyssey. Of course, if a spacecraft experiences a fatal system error, is destroyed or otherwise fails, then yeah, the mission is over.

While most missions are receiving a three-year extension, OSIRIS-REx will go on for an incredible nine more years to make the trip to its next target, while InSight will go on until the end of 2022 — but it could go longer, if its electrical power holds out.

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Every ongoing mission proposal was reviewed by an independent panel of experts assembled from NASA, various industries, and academia. They number more than 50, with two more people sitting as chairs to supervise each extension proposal. The two then validated the eight science missions, coming to believe that they held great promise in future ventures, to confront deep scientific questions of our time.

Many of these missions could provide multi-divisional science missions that span the entire spectrum of NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD). For example, they can serve as data relays for surface landers and rovers on Mars, in addition to other supportive roles for forthcoming NASA goals, like the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).

'Maximizing taxpayer dollars' on NASA spacecraft missions to space

"Extended missions provide us with the opportunity to leverage NASA's large investments in exploration, allowing continued science operations at a cost far lower than developing a new mission," said Director Lori Glaze of the Planetary Science Division, based in NASA's Washington headquarters, in the blog post.

"Maximizing taxpayer dollars in this way allows missions to obtain valuable new science data, and in some cases, allows NASA to explore new targets with totally new science goals," added Glaze. Additionally, new principal investigators (PIs) are joining two of the newly extended science missions, OSIRIS-REx, and MAVEN.

For OSIRIS-REx, Daniella DellaGiustina from the University of Arizona will take the reigns from the previous PI, Dante Lauretta, after the spacecraft has returned its samples from the asteroid Bennu to Earth. Its new mission will bring it to Apophis, a 1,200-ft (370-m) body that will come within 20,000 miles (32,000 km) of our planet in 2029.

OSIRIS-APEX will reach orbit around the asteroid Apophis in the immediate wake of Apophis' Earth flyby, which will provide the world with an unprecedented close-up of the S-type asteroid. The other new PI, Shannon Curry for MAVEN and from the University of California, will supervise the exploration of the way Mars' atmosphere interacts with the magnetic field as the forthcoming solar maximum comes. Studying the sun's activity levels as it reaches its max in the 11-year cycle will greatly enhance our understanding of how Mars' upper atmosphere and magnetic field are affected by the sun.

As of writing, NASA's Planetary Science Division is managing 14 different spacecraft spread throughout our solar system, with 12 more missions in the planning and implementation stages, in addition to everything happening to and with its partners, international space agencies, and many more.

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