A Wishlist for Solar System Exploration

Space exploration has been quite exciting in recent years.  Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, and Saturn currently have probes in orbit or on the surface.  There are probes en route to Pluto, Ceres, Mars, and Jupiter.  There are planned probes to Venus, Mars, the Moon, asteroids,  and Jupiter’s moons.  There’s a lot going on.  However, I feel there could be more.

I have six missions in mind that I would like to see happen.  These are currently not planned, but some have been discussed in recent years.

240px-Venus_globeVenus Lander and Flyer

Venus currently has an orbiter, and has had several orbiters and landers in the past.  It has been completely mapped by radar, and the atmosphere is currently being studied.  Although there have been landings in the past by the Soviet space program, those landers succumbed to Venus’ incredibly high temperatures and volatile atmosphere.  I’d like to see a lander built to survive on the surface and provide us with several weeks of data.  I’d also like to see a flyer that can observe both the atmosphere and the landscape.  Maybe it can also see lightning.

Europa-moonEuropa Lander

Galileo studied Europa, and there’s currently a probe on its way to Jupiter to study the planet, as well as the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer planned to launch in 2022, but nothing planned to land on Europa.  This is one of those places in our solar system that may have life.  It has a liquid ocean under its icy crust, and that ocean is covering a silicate mantle.  It’s quite possible that it could be geologically active with hot smokers like in Earth’s oceans, where microbial life may exist.  But we have to be careful not to contaminate the world if we drill through the ice into the ocean.

Titan_natural_colorTitan Lander

Saturn’s largest moon has already been visited by a lander, the Huygens probe, but it only lasted a short time.  Cassini has done a great job seeing through the clouds to study this remarkably Earth-like moon’s hydrocarbon lakes in the polar regions.  Titan needs a dedicated lander that can study the conditions for a much longer time.  Perhaps a flyer would be useful, as well.  I’d love to see some of Titan’s landscapes.

240px-Uranus2Uranus Orbiter

Uranus has only been visited once, by Voyager 2.  This is a fascinating planet that’s sitting on its side.  It has a ring system and plenty of very interesting moons, like Miranda, Titania, Ariel, Umbriel, and Oberon.  This is a system that needs to be studied up close by a dedicated orbiter.  We also need to understand more about the interior of the planet, as it’s most likely very ice.  It’s called an ice giant, not a gas giant.

244px-NeptuneNeptune Orbiter

The other ice giant, Neptune, has also been visited by Voyager 2.  This planet has a more dynamic-looking atmosphere, but most of the moons are quite small.  However, it has a unique moon, Triton, that is likely to be a captured Kuiper Belt object.  It’s also geologically active.  The most distant planet in the solar system needs an orbiter.

Eris_and_dysnomia2Eris Probe

The largest dwarf planet (larger than Pluto) should be explored in the future, as well.  It’s a lot farther away than Pluto, but it could be reachable by a probe within our lifetime, I hope.  Pluto will be explored next year, but I’d love to see what Eris is like, too.  What is a world so far away like?  It would be amazing to see it.

These are the missions I would love to see in my lifetime.  I’m anxious to know about these worlds.  What would you like to see?

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I’ve also got some other updates in the works.  I’ll be making some individual pages for reading challenges.  I’m also considering a change in the theme of this blog.  It’s been this way for two years, and I’m interested freshening it up.

Any comments?  You know what to do.