The world is a bit shite at the moment, and it’s likely to remain that way for some time, unfortunately. The coming months are going to be tough on a hell of a lot of people. Please, take care, everyone. Be safe and be kind. We’re all going through this, so let’s help each other out as much as possible.

But let’s put on our exploration hats and think about something completely different for a bit, huh? Something to take our minds off the troubles out there…

Humanity’s push into space is surging ahead, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down, while the search for extra-terrestrial life has long stopped being a laughing matter. Yes I’m a horror writer, but I’m also a space nut, and this excites me immensely. It feels like we’re on the cusp of a discovery that would forever change our view of the universe.

Perhaps there is no life out there beyond Earth, but I struggle to believe that. The universe is huge and full of wonder and possibility; to me, it’s more unfathomable that it could be sterile.

But either way, as we continue our drive towards putting women and men regularly on the moon – and beyond – by 2024 (NASA’s Artemis project – with an orbiting Moon base! – and SpaceX’s ambitious colonization of Mars in particular), there are a couple of other cool space missions that will be launching or have received additional approval for their continued development this year, aimed at searching for life:

  • Perseverance (the rover formally known as Mars 2020): off to Mars to explore possible sites of ancient habitability, seek out signs of past microbial life, collect samples for future return to Earth, and more. C’mon life! You gotta be out there.
    • A bonus on this mission is the Mars Helicopter that will launch along with the rover. This is a small autonomous rotorcraft that will fly across the surface of Mars. It’s the first ever helicopter flying on another planet!
    • Launch date: a 3-week window that opens July 17, 2020
Mars 2020 NASA
(Image from NASA’s Mars 2020 official website)

  • The Rosalind Franklin, the European Space Agency and Russian rover also off to Mars on a seven-month mission to search for past evidence of life. This rover will look at specific environments where water may have once flowed, and see what it can find. It has a drill that can penetrate up to 2m below the surface. C’mon fossils!!
    • Launch date: was July 2020 but unfortunately now delayed to August – October, 2022.

[That’s not forgetting Curiosity, which is still going strong on Mars, making all kinds of intriguing discoveries!]

Mars is a prime candidate for finding life; it had water flowing over its surface in the past, confusing variations in methane and oxygen being observed today, plus organic compounds have been discovered inside sedimentary rocks. If Mars 2020 and the Rosalind Franklin turn up nothing but dusty rocks, that will be quite a blow; the planet has inspired many science fiction tales over the years. Let’s hope Mars lives up to its reputation!

  • The Europa Clipper: the mission’s next phase was confirmed in August 2019, allowing for the completion of the final design, construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and science payload. The clipper will conduct an in-depth exploration of Jupiter’s moon Europa, and investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.
    • Launch date: ~2025

  • Dragonfly: selected on June 27, 2019 to become the fourth mission in the New Frontiers program, Dragonfly is a rotocraft-lander that will fly over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan searching for the building blocks of life and extra-terrestrial habitability.
    • Launch: ~2026
NASA Dragonfly
(Image from NASA)

There are of course more: TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite hunting new exoplanets), the James Webb Space Telescope (scheduled for launch in 2021 and will have the ability to quickly identify planets with oxygen), plus the science-based programs of Breakthrough Initiatives. Never has there been a time when so much money and effort has gone into the search for extra-terrestrials.

And this isn’t even touching on the idea that aliens are already here…

Fancy more of my mad ramblings?

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