Category: exploration

Exploration is a tradition at NASA. As we work…

Exploration is a tradition at NASA. As we work to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind, our acting Administrator shared plans for the future during the #StateOfNASA address today, February 12, 2018 which highlights the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget proposal.

Acting Administrator Lightfoot says “This budget focuses NASA on its core exploration mission and reinforces the many ways that we return value to the U.S. through knowledge and discoveries, strengthening our economy and security, deepening partnerships with other nations, providing solutions to tough problems, and inspiring the next generation. It places NASA and the U.S. once again at the forefront of leading a global effort to advance humanity’s future in space, and draws on our nation’s great industrial base and capacity for innovation and exploration.”

Read the full statement:

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10 Things to Know About Explorer 1, America’s …

Sixty years ago, the hopes of Cold War America soared into the night sky as a rocket lofted skyward above Cape Canaveral, a soon-to-be-famous barrier island off the Florida coast.

1. The Original Science Robot


Sixty years ago this week, the United States sent its first satellite into space on Jan. 31, 1958. The spacecraft, small enough to be held triumphantly overhead, orbited Earth from as far as 1,594 miles (2,565 km) above and made the first scientific discovery in space. It was called, appropriately, Explorer 1.

2. Why It’s Important


The world had changed three months before Explorer 1’s launch, when the Soviet Union lofted Sputnik into orbit on Oct. 4, 1957. That satellite was followed a month later by a second Sputnik spacecraft. All of the missions were inspired when an international council of scientists called for satellites to be placed in Earth orbit in the pursuit of science. The Space Age was on.

3. It…Wasn’t Easy


When Explorer 1 launched, we (NASA) didn’t yet exist. It was a project of the U.S. Army and was built by Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. After the Sputnik launch, the Army, Navy and Air Force were tasked by President Eisenhower with getting a satellite into orbit within 90 days. The Navy’s Vanguard Rocket, the first choice, exploded on the launch pad Dec. 6, 1957.

4. The People Behind Explorer 1


University of Iowa physicist James Van Allen, whose proposal was chosen for the Vanguard satellite, had made sure his scientific instrument—a cosmic ray detector—would fit either launch vehicle. Wernher von Braun, working with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Alabama, directed the design of the Redstone Jupiter-C launch rocket, while JPL Director William Pickering oversaw the design of Explorer 1 and other upper stages of the rocket. JPL was also responsible for sending and receiving communications from the spacecraft.

5. All About the Science


Explorer 1’s science payload took up 37.25 inches (95 cm) of the satellite’s total 80.75 inches (2.05 meters). The main instruments were a cosmic-ray detector; internal, external and nose-cone temperature sensors; a micrometeorite impact microphone; a ring of micrometeorite erosion gauges; and two transmitters. There were two antennas in the body of the satellite and its four flexible whips formed a turnstile antenna that extended with the rotation of the satellite. Electrical power was provided by batteries that made up 40 percent of the total payload weight.

6. At the Center of a Space Doughnut


The first scientific discovery in space came from Explorer 1. Earth is surrounded by radiation belts of electrons and charged particles, some of them moving at nearly the speed of light, about 186,000 miles (299,000 km) per second. The two belts are shaped like giant doughnuts with Earth at the center. Data from Explorer 1 and Explorer 3 (launched March 26, 1958) led to the discovery of the inner radiation belt, while Pioneer 3 (Dec. 6, 1958) and Explorer IV (July 26, 1958) provided additional data, leading to the discovery of the outer radiation belt. The radiation belts can be hazardous for spacecraft, but they also protect the planet from harmful particles and energy from the Sun.

7. 58,376 Orbits


Explorer 1’s last transmission was received May 21, 1958. The spacecraft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up on March 31, 1970, after 58,376 orbits. From 1958 on, more than 100 spacecraft would fall under the Explorer designation.

8. Find Out More!


Want to know more about Explorer 1? Check out the website and download the poster celebrating 60 years of space science.

9. Hold the Spacecraft In Your Hands


Create your own iconic Explorer 1 photo (or re-create the original), with our Spacecraft 3D app. Follow @NASAEarth this week to see how we #ExploreAsOne.

10. What’s Next?


All of our missions can trace a lineage to Explorer 1. This year alone, we’re going to expand the study of our home planet from space with the launch of two new satellite missions (GRACE-FO and ICESat-2); we’re going back to Mars with InSight; and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will search for planets outside our solar system by monitoring 200,000 bright, nearby stars. Meanwhile, the Parker Solar Probe will build on the work of James Van Allen when it flies closer to the Sun than any mission before.

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Each year we hold a Day of Remembrance. Today, Jan. 25, we pay will tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA colleagues who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery. 


Learn more about the Day of Remembrance HERE

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Finalists for a Future Mission to Explore the …

We’ve selected two finalists for a robotic mission that is planned to launch in the mid-2020s! Following a competitive peer review process, these two concepts were chosen from 12 proposals that were submitted in April under a New Frontiers program announcement opportunity.

What are they?

In no particular order…



CAESAR, or the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return mission seeks to return a sample from 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – the comet that was successfully explored by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft – to determine its origin and history.


This mission would acquire a sample from the nucleus of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and return it safely to Earth. 


Comets are made up of materials from ancient stars, interstellar clouds and the birth of our solar system, so the CAESAR sample could reveal how these materials contributed to the early Earth, including the origins of the Earth’s oceans, and of life.


A drone-like rotorcraft would be sent to explore the prebiotic chemistry and habitability of dozens of sites on Saturn’s moon Titan – one of the so-called ocean worlds in our solar system.


Unique among these Ocean Worlds, Titan has a surface rich in organic compounds and diverse environments, including those where carbon and nitrogen have interacted with water and energy.


Dragonfly would be a dual-quadcopter lander that would take advantage of the environment on Titan to fly to multiple locations, some hundreds of miles apart, to sample materials and determine surface composition to investigate Titan’s organic chemistry and habitability, monitor atmospheric and surface conditions, image landforms to investigate geological processes, and perform seismic studies.

What’s Next?

The CAESAR and Dragonfly missions will receive funding through the end of 2018 to further develop and mature the concepts. It is planned that from these, one investigation will be chosen in the spring of 2019 to continue into subsequent mission phases.


That mission would be the fourth mission in the New Frontiers portfolio, which conducts principal investigator (PI)-led planetary science missions under a development cost cap of approximately $850 million. Its predecessors are the New Horizons mission to Pluto and a Kuiper Belt object, the Juno mission to Jupiter and OSIRIS-REx, which will rendezvous with and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu. 

Key Technologies

We also announced that two mission concepts were chosen to receive technology development funds to prepare them for future mission opportunities.


The Enceladus Life Signatures and Habitability (ELSAH) mission concept will receive funds to enable life detection measurements by developing cost-effective techniques to limit spacecraft contamination on cost-capped missions.


The Venus In situ Composition Investigations (VICI) mission concept will further develop the VEMCam instrument to operate under harsh conditions on Venus. The instrument uses lasers on a lander to measure the mineralogy and elemental composition of rocks on the surface of Venus.

The call for these mission concepts occurred in April and was limited to six mission themes: comet surface sample return, lunar south pole-Aitken Basin sample return, ocean worlds, Saturn probe, Trojan asteroid tour and rendezvous and Venus insitu explorer.

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SpaceX Dragon breathes Astronomical Amounts of…

SpaceX is helping the crew members aboard the International Space Station get down and nerdy as they launch their Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit for the 13th commercial resupply mission, targeted for Dec. 15 from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 


This super science-heavy flight will deliver experiments and equipment that will study phenomena on the Sun, materials in microgravity, space junk and more. 


Here are some highlights of research that will be delivered to the station:

ZBLAN Fiber Optics Tested in Space!

The Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity (Made in Space Fiber Optics) experiment demonstrates the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment. This investigation will attempt to pull fiber optic wire from ZBLAN, a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass.


When ZBLAN is solidified on Earth, its atomic structure tends to form into crystals. Research indicates that ZBLAN fiber pulled in microgravity may not crystalize as much, giving it better optical qualities than the silica used in most fiber optic wire. 

Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor is Totally Teaching us About Earth’s Climate

The Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS, monitors both total solar irradiance and solar spectral irradiance, measurements that represent one of the longest space-observed climate records. Solar irradiance is the output of light energy from the entire disk of the Sun, measured at the Earth. This means looking at the Sun in ways very similar to how we observe stars rather than as an image with details that our eye can resolve.


Understanding the variability and magnitude of solar irradiance is essential to understanding Earth’s climate.  

Sensor Monitors Space Station Environment for Space Junk

The Space Debris Sensor (SDS) will directly measure the orbital debris environment around the space station for two to three years.


Above, see documentation of a Micro Meteor Orbital Debris strike on one of the window’s within the space station’s Cupola. 

Research from this investigation could help lower the risk to human life and critical hardware by orbital debris.

Self-Assembling and Self-Replicating Materials in Space!

Future space exploration may utilize self-assembly and self-replication to make materials and devices that can repair themselves on long duration missions. 


The Advanced Colloids Experiment- Temperature-7 (ACE-T-7) investigation involves the design and assembly of 3D structures from small particles suspended in a fluid medium. 

Melting Plastics in Microgravity

The Transparent Alloys project seeks to improve the understanding of the melting and solidification processes in plastics in microgravity. Five investigations will be conducted as a part of the Transparent Alloys project.


These European Space Agency (ESA) investigations will allow researchers to study this phenomena in the microgravity environment, where natural convection will not impact the results.  

Studying Slime (or…Algae, at Least) on the Space Station

Arthrospira B, an ESA investigation, will examine the form, structure and physiology of the Arthrospira sp. algae in order to determine the reliability of the organism for future spacecraft biological life support systems.


The development of these kinds of regenerative life support systems for spaceflight could also be applied to remote locations on Earth where sustainability of materials is important. 

Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for more space science and watch the launch live on Dec. 15 at 10:36 a.m. EDT HERE!

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Researchers Just Found (For The First Time) An…


Our Milky Way galaxy is full of hundreds of billions of
worlds just waiting to be found. In 2014, scientists using data from our planet-hunting
Kepler space telescope discovered seven planets orbiting Kepler-90, a Sun-like star
located 2,500 light-years away. Now, an eighth planet has been identified in this
planetary system, making it tied with our own solar system in having the highest
number of known planets. Here’s what you need to know:

The new planet is called Kepler-90i.


Kepler-90i is a sizzling hot, rocky planet. It’s the smallest of eight planets in the Kepler-90 system. It orbits so close to its star that a “year” passes in just 14 days.


Average surface temperatures on Kepler-90i are estimated to hover around 800 degrees Fahrenheit, making it an unlikely place for life as we know it.

Its planetary system is like a scrunched up version of our solar system.


The Kepler-90 system is set up like our solar system, with the small planets located close to their star and the big planets farther away. This pattern is evidence that the system’s outer gas planets—which are about the size of Saturn and Jupiter—formed in a way similar to our own.


But the orbits are much more compact. The orbits of all eight
planets could fit within the distance of Earth’s orbit around our Sun! Sounds
crowded, but think of it this way: It would make for some great planet-hopping.

Kepler-90i was discovered using machine learning.


Most planets beyond our solar system are too far away to be imaged directly. The Kepler space telescope searches for these exoplanets—those planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system—by measuring how the brightness of a star changes when a planet transits, or crosses in front of its disk. Generally speaking, for a given star, the greater the dip in brightness, the bigger the planet!


Researchers trained a computer to learn how to identify the faint signal of transiting exoplanets in Kepler’s vast archive of deep-space data. A search for new worlds around 670 known multiple-planet systems using this machine-learning technique yielded not one, but two discoveries: Kepler-90i and Kepler-80g. The latter is part of a six-planet star system located 1,000 light-years away.

is just the beginning of a new way of planet hunting.


Kepler-90 is the first known star system besides our own that has eight planets, but scientists say it won’t be the last. Other planets may lurk around stars surveyed by Kepler. Next, researchers are using machine learning with sophisticated computer algorithms to search for more planets around 150,000 stars in the Kepler database.

the meantime, we’ll be doing more searching with telescopes.


Kepler is the most successful planet-hunting spacecraft to date, with more than 2,500 confirmed exoplanets and many more awaiting verification. Future space missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the James Webb Space Telescope and Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will continue the search for new worlds and even tell us which ones might offer promising homes for extraterrestrial life.

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*All images of exoplanets
are artist illustrations.

What in the Universe is an Exoplanet?

Simply put, an exoplanet is a planet that orbits another star. 

All of the planets in our solar system orbit around the Sun. Planets that orbit around other stars outside our solar system are called exoplanets.

Just because a planet orbits a star (like Earth) does not mean that it is automatically stable for life. The planet must be within the habitable zone, which is the area around a star in which water has the potential to be liquid…aka not so close that all the water would evaporate, and not too far away where all the water would freeze.

Exoplanets are very hard to see directly with telescopes. They are hidden by the bright glare of the stars they orbit. So, astronomers use other ways to detect and study these distant planets by looking at the effects these planets have on the stars they orbit.

One way to search for exoplanets is to look for “wobbly” stars. A star that has planets doesn’t orbit perfectly around its center. From far away, this off-center orbit makes the star look like it’s wobbling. Hundreds of planets have been discovered using this method. However, only big planets—like Jupiter, or even larger—can be seen this way. Smaller Earth-like planets are much harder to find because they create only small wobbles that are hard to detect.

How can we find Earth-like planets in other solar systems?

In 2009, we launched a spacecraft called Kepler to look for exoplanets. Kepler looked for planets in a wide range of sizes and orbits. And these planets orbited around stars that varied in size and temperature.

Kepler detected exoplanets using something called the transit method. When a planet passes in front of its star, it’s called a transit. As the planet transits in front of the star, it blocks out a little bit of the star’s light. That means a star will look a little less bright when the planet passes in front of it. Astronomers can observe how the brightness of the star changes during a transit. This can help them figure out the size of the planet.

By studying the time between transits, astronomers can also find out how far away the planet is from its star. This tells us something about the planet’s temperature. If a planet is just the right temperature, it could contain liquid water—an important ingredient for life.

So far, thousands of planets have been discovered by the Kepler mission.

We now know that exoplanets are very common in the universe. And future missions have been planned to discover many more!

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Human Expansion Across Solar System

On this day in 1972, two NASA astronauts landed on the Moon. Now, 45 years later, we have been instructed to return to the lunar surface.

Today at the White House, President Trump signed the Space Policy Directive 1, a change in national space policy that provides for a U.S.-led program with private sector partners for a human return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond.

Among other dignitaries on hand for the signing, were NASA astronauts Sen. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Buzz Aldrin, Peggy Whitson and Christina Koch.

Schmitt landed on the moon 45 years to the minute that the policy directive was signed as part of our Apollo 17 mission, and is the most recent living person to have set foot on our lunar neighbor. 

Above, at the signing ceremony instructing us to send humans back to the lunar surface, Schmitt shows First Daughter Ivanka Trump the Moon sample he collected in 1972.

The effort signed today will more effectively organize government, private industry and international efforts toward returning humans on the Moon, and will lay the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.

To learn more, visit:

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What’s That in the Night Sky?

The night sky has really been showing off lately. During the past week, we’ve had the chance to see some amazing sights by simply just looking up!

On Wednesday, Dec. 29, we were greeted by a flyby of the International Space Station over much of the east coast.

When the space station flies overhead, it’s usually easy to spot because it’s the third brightest object in the night sky. You can even enter your location into THIS website and get a list of dates/times when it will be flying over you!

One of our NASA Headquarters Photographers ventured to the Washington National Cathedral to capture the pass in action.


Then, on Saturday, Dec. 2, just one day before the peak of this month’s supermoon, the space station was seen passing in front of the Moon. 

Captured by another NASA HQ Photographer, this composite image shows the space station, with a crew of six onboard, as its silhouette transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second.


Here’s an animated version of the transit.


To top off all of this night sky greatness, are these beautiful images of the Dec. 3 supermoon. This marked the first of three consecutive supermoons taking the celestial stage. The two others will occur on Jan. 1 and Jan. 31, 2018.


A supermoon occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest to Earth at the same time that it is full.


Are you this pilot? An aircraft taking off from Ronald Reagan National Airport is seen passing in front of the Moon as it rose on Sunday.

Learn more about the upcoming supermoons: 

To learn more about what you can expect to spot in the sky this month, visit:

Discover when the International Space Station will be visible over your area by visiting:

Learn more about our Moon at:

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Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

Even the most ambitious plans start with a drawing. Visualizing a distant destination or an ambitious dream is the first step to getting there. For decades, artists working on NASA projects have produced beautiful images that stimulated the imaginations of the people working to make them a reality. 


Some of them offered visualizations of spacecraft that had not yet been built; others imagined what it might look like to stand on planets that had not yet been explored. This week, we look at 10 pieces of conceptual art for our missions before they were launched–along with actual photos taken when those missions arrived at their destinations.

1. Apollo at the Moon


In 1968, an artist with our contractor North American Rockwell illustrated a phase of the Apollo lunar missions, showing the Command and Service Modules over the surface of the Moon. In 1971, an astronaut aboard the Lunar Module during Apollo 15 captured a similar scene in person with a camera.

2. Ready for Landing


This artist’s concept depicts an Apollo Lunar Module firing its descent engine above the lunar surface. At right, a photo from Apollo 12 in 1969 showing the Lunar Module Intrepid, taken by Command Module Pilot Richard Gordon.

3. Man and Machine on the Moon


Carlos Lopez, an artist with Hughes Aircraft Company, created a preview of a Surveyor spacecraft landing for our Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the early 1960s. The robotic Surveyor missions soft landed on the Moon, collecting data and images of the surface in order to ensure a safe arrival for Apollo astronauts a few years later. In the image at right, Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean examines the Surveyor 3 spacecraft during his second excursion on the Moon in November 1969.

4. O Pioneer!


In missions that lived up to their names, we sent the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft to perform the first up-close exploration of the outer solar system. At left, an artist’s imagining of Pioneer passing Jupiter. At right, Pioneer 11’s real view of the king of planets taken in 1974.

5. The Grand Tour


An even more ambitious pair of robotic deep space adventurers followed the Pioneers. Voyager 1 and 2 both visited Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 went on to Uranus and Neptune. Even the most visionary artists couldn’t imagine the exotic and beautiful vistas that the Voyager spacecraft witnessed. These images were taken between 1979 and 1989.

6. Journey to a Giant


Our Cassini spacecraft carried a passenger to the Saturn system: the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe. Huygens was designed to land on Saturn’s planet-sized moon Titan. At left is an artist’s view of Cassini sending the Huygens probe on its way toward Titan, and at right are some actual images of the giant moon from Cassini’s cameras.

7. Titan Unveiled


On Jan. 14, 2005, the Huygens probe descended through Titan’s thick haze and revealed what Titan’s surface looks like for the first time in history. Before the landing, an artist imagined the landscape (left). During the descent, Huygens’ imagers captured the actual view at four different altitudes (center)—look for the channels formed by rivers of liquid hyrdocarbons. Finally, the probe came to rest on a pebble-strewn plain (right).

8. Hazy Skies over Pluto


David Seal rendered this imaginary view from the surface of Pluto, and in the sky above, an early version of the spacecraft that came to be known as our New Horizons. At the time, Pluto was already suspected of having a thin atmosphere. That turned out be true, as seen in this dramatic backlit view of Pluto’s hazy, mountainous horizon captured by one of New Horizons’ cameras in 2015.

9. Dreams on Mars, Wheels on Mars


Long before it landed in Gale Crater, our Curiosity rover was the subject of several artistic imaginings during the years the mission was in development. Now that Curiosity is actually rolling through the Martian desert, it occasionally stops to take a self-portrait with the camera at the end of its robotic arm, which it uses like a selfie stick.

10. The World, Ceres


No one knew exactly what the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt, looked like until our Dawn mission got there. Dawn saw a heavily cratered world—with a few surprises, such as the famous bright spots in Occator crater.


There’s more to come. Today we have carefully created artist impressions of several unexplored destinations in the solar system, including the asteroids Psyche and Bennu, and an object one billion miles past Pluto that’s now called 2014 MU69. 


You can help nickname this object (or objects—there may be two) by submitting your names by Dec. 1. Our New Horizons spacecraft will fly past MU69 on New Year’s Day 2019.

Soon, we’ll once again see how nature compares to our imaginations. It’s almost always stranger and more beautiful than we thought.

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