The best way to know a world is to touch it. Scientists have observed the planets and moons in our solar system for centuries, and have flown spacecraft past the orbs for decades. But to really understand these worlds, researchers need to get their hands dirty — or at least a spacecraft’s landing pads.
Since the dawn of the space age, Mars and the moon have gotten almost all the lander love. Only a handful of spacecraft have landed on Venus, our other nearest neighbor world, and none have touched down on Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter thought to be one of the best places in the solar system to look for present-day life (SN: 5/2/14).
Researchers are working to change that. In several talks at the virtual American Geophysical Union meeting that ran from December 1 to December 17, planetary scientists and engineers discussed new tricks that hypothetical future spacecraft may need to land on unfamiliar terrain on Venus and Europa. The missions are still in a design phase and are not on NASA’s launch schedule, but scientists want to be prepared.
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