FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS McDONALD OBSERVATORY, AS HEARD ON KCBS RADIO WEEKDAYS @ 9:52 A.M., 7:35 P.M. & 2:52 A.M.
STARDATE 7/2/2014: Dozens of spacecraft are keeping their eyes and ears on the universe, and more are on the way. But it usually takes years from the time a mission is first proposed until it flies in space — and a lot of good candidates never make it.
At an astronomy conference earlier this year, several teams pitched their ideas for future missions:
AUDIO: Al Kogut. I’m an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. PIXIE is a mission to measure the blackbody spectrum and the polarization of the microwave background with a goal toward understanding basically the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to today, all in one mission….
Glenn Schneider, I’m an astronomer and principal investigator for the EXCEDE mission concept. EXCEDE is designed to study the formation, evolution, architectures, and diversity of exoplanetary systems by studying the circumstellar dust and debris in those systems.
NASA periodically asks for mission proposals — either to meet specific science goals, or to look for fresh ideas. Proposals come from universities, NASA centers, and other agencies. The most promising ones get seed money to develop the ideas. Several review rounds follow, with perhaps one or two missions getting the go-ahead. A few others may get funding to continue developing their ideas with a chance to submit them again later.
It’s a long process, but it can result in some amazing new missions of exploration. We’ll talk about some examples tomorrow.