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Waspie_Dwarf

Exploration of the Solar System in 2007

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The 4th October 2007 will mark 50 years of space exploration. A half century earlier a modified Soviet R7 ICBM blasted off from Baikonur, in what was then Soviet Central Asia but has now become, once again, Kazakhstan. It placed Sputnik 1 into orbit and the space age was under way.

Exploitation of space has become such an every day occurrence that we hardly notice it any more. The myriad satellites above our heads provide weather information, telecommunications and satellite navigation. Earth resources satellites provide us with ever more accurate maps, warnings of diseased plants, floods and draughts and keep an eye on pollution and deforestation. They spy on potential enemies and look out for clandestine nuclear weapons tests.

These uses of space technology may be the ones which most directly affect our lives but they are not the ones which most fire our imagination. For that it is the vehicles of exploration we turn to. Manned spaceflight always grabs the headlines. With the record of the shuttle we can not be oblivious to the inherent risks that space travel brings and yet the era of commercial space tourism is already upon us.

The shuttle is scheduled to make 5 flights in 2007, all to the ISS. There will also be two manned Soyuz flights to the station. China's 3rd manned mission, Shenzhou 7, is not expected until 2008.

However, until man returns moon at least, the real exploration is being carried out by a flotilla of unmanned vessels. This exploration will carry on unabated this year.

Two new probes will be dispatched to orbit the Moon. The Japanese SELENE craft is due to be launched in July. Towards the end of the year it will be joined by China's Chang'e 1.

Mars will continue to be explored by the NASA orbiters Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor and the European Mars Express. On the surface the venerable Mars Exploration Rovers will continue their studies, but at 3 years old these little rovers, designed for just 90 days of operation, must surely be coming towards the end. 3rd August will see the launch of a new mission, Phoenix. Rising, like it's name sake, from the ashes of the ill fated Mars Polar Lander mission, Phoenix will arrive at Mars in May 2008. It will land near the planet's north pole, where it will examine soil and ice.

ESA's Venus Express will continue to explore Earth's "evil twin". It will have a brief visitor this year. on 5th June the MESSENGER spacecraft will make the second of its two Venus fly-bys. Launched in 2004 MESSENGER will start a series of 3 Mercury fly bys in January 2008 before finally entering orbit around Mercury in 2011.

Jupiter will also receive a flying visit this year. on 28th February the Pluto bound New Horizons spacecraft will make a close approach to the giant planet. New Horizons was launched in January 2006. It will reach it's closest point to ex-planet Pluto on 14th July 2015 and then a year later will star a 4 year examination of other Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).

Cassini will continue it's exploration of the Saturnian system. As well as examining the planet itself Cassini will make 17 close fly-bys of Titan and one of Iapetus.

The Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to be launched on 20th June. This spacecraft will use ion propulsion to visit the asteroid belt. It will make a fly-by of Mars in 2009. In September 2011 it will arrive at the asteroid Vesta where it will enter orbit. It will examine Vesta until April 2012 when it will head off to Ceres. When Pluto lost it's planetary status and was demoted to "dwarf planet" Ceres was promoted from asteroid to dwarf planet. Hence when Dawn enters orbit around Ceres in February 2015 it will have beaten New Horizons to be the first spacecraft to explore a dwarf planet by 5 months.

All told this Golden Jubilee of space exploration should be just as exciting as those that have gone before. I look forward to posting these stories as they happen.

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I accept that this is very hard to answer, but what would you like and expect to be discovered this year?

I would like it to be confirmed that there is/ is not water under Mars' surface.

I would like an advancement of life at Titan.

I am not sure what I expect, but more exploration of Mars.

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Posted (edited)

I have become engrossed in these robotic exploration missions as well (cassini&Venus express being my Favs)The images of the methane lakes on titan are awsome! I to am excited and am awaiting the 2011 arrival of messenger to mercury,most people dont even realize (or care )this is happening as for me it has

enticed me into a world of science that has eluded this adult with an extreme case of ADHD ,keep it coming !

also the Nasa or JPL website has a section called basics of spacefight that I have found extremely informative and has brought me up to date enough so i can follow these mission with a simple grasp of what sciences are employed to achieve these ambitious missions....................B.

Edited by Barek Halfhand

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I would like an advancement of life at Titan.

Life on Titan is incredibly unlikely. There is no liquid water and the temperature is extremely low. Mars, Europa and possibly Ganymede are all more likely candidates. Even if there is some form of life we aren't going to find it using Cassini. In the short term Mars is the only world where we are likely to be able to confirm/disprove the existence of life as it is the only one where we will actually be able to analysis the surface.

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