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NASA Details 2013 Plans

NASA plans continued exploration of Mars and the night sky, continued missions to the International Space Station, and numerous satellite and spacecraft missions.

NASA Mars Mission: No Little Green Men -- Yet
NASA Mars Mission: No Little Green Men -- Yet
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Despite a budget crunch and an uncertain political environment, NASA is pushing ahead with numerous launches and plans for ongoing missions in 2013, the space agency said in a series of announcements over the last few weeks.

In the next year, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover will continue its drive toward a mound known as Mount Sharp, and the space agency will send expeditions to the International Space Station, update its space communications network, gather information about the lunar surface, and work on a mission to the Martian atmosphere, among other efforts.

Over the next year, NASA's most visible current project, the Mars Curiosity rover, will continue its drive across a shallow depression known as Yellowknife Bay on its way toward a three-mile-high mountain known as Mount Sharp, which NASA has targeted as Curiosity's "primary science destination."

NASA's long-lived Opportunity rover, meanwhile, is conducting experiments and taking photographs at another site, known as Matijevic Hill, on the rim of a crater. It is studying clay-like soils and tiny spheres of soil nicknamed "newberries" by NASA scientists.

[ Check out the instruments helping NASA determine whether microbial life ever existed on the red planet. See 11 Cool Tools NASA Curiosity Brought To Mars. ]

As for launches, NASA will begin the new year with a test flight of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, followed shortly thereafter by the launch of part of a series of next-generation communication satellites. Another Antares test is scheduled in April.

NASA's launches will continue throughout the year. In February, the agency will launch a new satellite for the long-running Landsat program, which provides imagery for wide-ranging uses. Manned and unmanned missions to the International Space Station are scheduled several times throughout the year.

In late April, NASA plans to launch a solar probe called the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, which will study energy in the Sun's atmosphere, focusing on the chromosphere. Joining missions to the Sun will be missions to the Moon and to Mars. The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, scheduled to launch in August 2013, will study lunar dust. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) will study Mars' upper atmosphere.

NASA also plans to continue its work on the James Webb Space Telescope and other future missions. Ongoing missions include the New Horizons spacecraft, which will continue its approach toward Pluto, waking up from hibernation in January to calibrate and update instruments and software, and the Kepler Space Telescope, which will continue an extended mission to look for potentially habitable planets analogous to Earth.

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