While the future is unknown and unknowable, bureaucratic agencies such as NASA like to have their agendas set far in advance. This means that we can look forward to a great deal of exciting events in the coming year.
Along with the regular suite of expected launches, NASA will be undertaking a number of exciting new missions, likely making some incredible discoveries, and wrestling with potential problems both within the agency and without. Here, Wired takes a look at some of the most important missions and milestones happening in space in 2012.
NASA’s 2012 got off to an auspicious start when the second of the twin GRAIL satellites successfully entered orbit around the moon during the early hours of the new year. (The first probe entered orbit in the late afternoon of Dec. 31.) Starting in March, the two probes will collect data in order to provide an accurate map of the moon’s gravitational field.
Such information will give researchers a glimpse of what goes on beneath the lunar surface, allowing them to answer many long-standing mysteries about the moon’s origin. One recent theory posits that the Earth once had a second moon that smashed into our current natural satellite. If this is true, the GRAIL satellites will find that the lunar far side has a thicker crust than the facing side.