NASA: After Juno's Stunning Jupiter Flyby, What's Next For America's Space Agency?

Anya Wassenberg

NASA scientists and researchers erupted into applause at the announcement yesterday that the Juno spacecraft had successfully entered into orbit of the dangerous gas giant Jupiter. After what Universe Today called a "do or die mission," what's next for NASA and its Planetary Science division?

Maneuvering the Juno spacecraft into Jupiter's orbit required a precise series of operations and its success was never a sure thing. Scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory were jubilant when the news was announced, as reported in the Independent.

"We conquered Jupiter."

Unlike Earth, on Jupiter there is no clear delineation between the gasses of the atmosphere and the planet itself. Hydrogen, helium, and other gases that would be considered part of the atmosphere on Earth are drawn into the giant planet by Jupiter's strong gravitational force.

As reported in Universe Today on Monday, NASA has announced the extension of no less than nine of its space missions, including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers, the Mars Odyssey orbiter, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). NASA also announced its continued participation in the Mars Express mission operated by the European Space Agency. The extended missions continue to send incredible volumes of data back to earth.

Mars, one of Earth's neighbors in the solar system, is clearly an international priority, with several missions orbiting, exploring, and mapping our neighbor in the solar system, looking for suitable places for human exploration. They operate in a race with SpaceX and Elon Musk's vow to send an unmanned rocket to the red planet by 2018, as reported in Tek22.

Two of NASA's existing missions that will be extended are already in exciting territory and set to surpass their own mission goals.

"The mission exceeded all expectations originally set for its exploration of protoplanet Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres."

From Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft will continue on to a small object in the Kuiper Belt called 2014 MU69. NASA scientists are eager to explore 2014 MU69 because they believe it contains some of the earliest material of our solar system. Studying it will provide clues on how the solar system was formed. NASA Director of Planetary Science Jim Green at NASA HQ in Washington, D.C., was quoted in a media release.

"We're excited to continue onward into the dark depths of the outer solar system to a science target that wasn't even discovered when the spacecraft launched."

[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech]