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February 18, 2024

NASA’s most high-risk endeavor in decades and other boundary-pushing space missions planned for 2024

are on track, according to space agency officials. The most highly anticipated mission planned for 2024 is the launch of the first crewed mission to fly around the Moon since the famous Apollo 8 nearly half-a-century ago. A crew of four astronauts, including mission commander Victor Glover Jr., will blast off in the the Orion crew capsule atop the Space Launch System (SLS), a towering rocket developed by NASA, currently the world's most powerful. Other equally ambitious and exciting space missions are scheduled for the same year. NASA's Perseverance rover, designed to search for signs of past microbial life on Mars, will take off in July. And just a few months later, the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched to take a much closer look at the Universe than ever before. The Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, is expected to return with new observations about the Sun's mysterious innermost atmosphere. Agency scientists hope to gain insights into phenomena, such as solar storms, that can interfere with satellite communications. NASA is also investing in research about habitation and transportation in space. The Infinity Habitat Challenge incentivizes private companies to develop innovative ideas for living off the Earth. Nearly a dozen teams are preparing to compete in a live event at Kennedy Space Center in 2024. Robust and promising planetary defense measures may also take shape before the decade is out. In 2021, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft that will attempt to deflect an incoming asteroid, and the follow-up Hera mission in 2024 could help to identify the best strategies for countering potential impacts. NASA is banking on the success of these projects to usher in a new era of interplanetary exploration in the coming decades. But the agency knows its successes are highly dependent on the conditions in space and their ability to plan and execute their intricate projects. Fortunately, with teams of dedicated scientists and engineers, all their ambitions should remain realistic and achievable.