Guiding the Future of NASA Missions
Exploration, discovery and creative scientific research are the keys to new knowledge, and essential toward understanding our origins and destiny. Exploring the Sun's system of planets, satellites, comets and asteroids will help us discover their secrets, and understand the processes that make them what they are.
The exploration of the solar system is a technically challenging endeavor. Success is not always guaranteed and tenacity and perseverance are required. Yet in the United States, as in some other countries, this challenge has been met with resolve. Today we are planning space missions that may tell us whether other life exists or has ever existed in places beyond the Earth. We are engaged in research that probes from the very cores of planets to the atomic processes that occur in the highest regions of their atmospheres and plasma environments, and we are carrying out surveys to find potentially hazardous objects in near-Earth orbits that could affect the future of us all. Answers to some of the most profound questions?Are we alone? From where did we come? What is our destiny? may be within our grasp.
To continue this exploration in the most productive way an effective strategy is needed that will produce the most significant results for the least time and resources spent. This is the purpose of the Decadal (duh-CAY-duhl) Survey, which was commissioned for NASA by the National Academy of Science, and provides the scientific rationale for a ranked set of exploratory missions that could be launched in the coming decade.
The Solar System Decadal Survey is not an implementation plan - rather, it is a durable comprehensive strategy on which sound, implementation plans can be securely based. It integrates the wide range of interests, from planetary science and astrophysics to geology, astrobiology and chemistry and analyzes input from all scientific communities with varying goals and objectives. Below lists some of the major themes, goals and research areas that help shape the missions that will carry Solar System exploration through the next decade and beyond.
From the Decadal Survey
Four Major Themes Are Identified
- The First Billion Years of Solar System History.
This formative period propelled the evolution of Earth and the other planets, including the emergence of life on Earth, yet this epoch in our Solar System's history is poorly understood.
- Volatiles and Organics; The Stuff of Life.
Life requires organic materials and volatiles, notably liquid water, originally condensed from the solar nebula and later delivered to the planets by organic-rich cometary and asteroidal debris.
- The Origin and Evolution of Habitable Worlds.
Our concept of the "habitable zone" is being expanded by recent discoveries on Earth and elsewhere in the Solar System. Understanding our planetary neighborhood will help to trace the evolutionary paths of the planets and the fate of our own.
- Processes; How Planets Work.
Understanding the operation of fundamental processes is the firm foundation of planetary science, providing insight to the evolution of worlds within our Solar System, and planets around other stars.
Goals Guiding Solar System Exploration
- Determine how life developed in the solar system, where it may have existed, whether extant life forms exist beyond Earth, and in what ways life modifies planetary environments;
- Understand how physical and chemical processes determine the main characteristics of the planets, and their environments, thereby illuminating the workings of the Earth;
- Learn how the Sun's retinue of planets originated and evolved;
- Explore the terrestrial space environment to discover what potential hazards to the Earth may exist;
- Discover how the basic laws of physics and chemistry can lead to the diverse phenomena observed in complex systems.
Decadal Survey Research Areas
- Primitive Bodies: Building Blocks in the Solar System and the Origins of Organic Matter in the Solar System.
- The Inner Solar System: Key to Habitable Worlds.
- Mars: The Evolution of an Earth-like Planet.
- Giant Planets: Keys to Solar System Formation.
- Large Satellites: Active Worlds and Extreme Environments.