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NASA

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts NIAC program has announced 15 phase I winners in its quest to make science fiction science fact. The aim of the program is to encourage the innovation of ideas with the potential to transform future aerospace and exploration operations, but more importantly, it grants us a tantalizing and often fantastical glimpse of what the future may hold.

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The results from a new NASA experiment suggest that the dark material seen coating geological features on Europa may well be sea salt. Originating from a subsurface ocean, the material is thought to have been discolored by exposure to radiation.

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Following the recent loss of the Russian Progress 59 cargo ship, NASA and its partners in the station have agreed to reshuffle future launches based on preliminary investigations by the Russian Federal Space Agency.

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NASA's imaginatively-named Space Launch System (SLS), has entered its critical design review phase, which will see the leviathan rocket given the go-ahead for full-scale construction. The review represents a major milestone that must be passed with flying colors if the SLS is to make its intended maiden launch date, which is currently slated for 2017.

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Establishing and maintaining a permanent human presence on Mars promises to be one of the most technologically challenging ventures ever undertaken by our species. A key aspect of the endeavor is to create an environment in which human beings can survive and flourish – this requires a ready supply of oxygen. NASA is working with Indiana-based company Techshot Inc. in order to develop a solution with the potential to produce an abundant source of oxygen with minimal assistance from Earth.

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NASA has launched a public challenge with the aim of innovating technologies vital for the establishment of a colony on Mars. The agency is focused on a mission to the Red Planet, and has already taken the first vital steps. However, whilst simply reaching Mars with a cargo of healthy astronauts would be a monumental triumph, maintaining a permanent presence on so inhospitable a planet could prove to be a much greater technological challenge.

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Space may be big, but in our neck of the woods it's getting crowded. There are thousands of active and inactive satellites in orbit around Earth, and while Mars may not exactly be Piccadilly Circus, it now has five active satellites circling it. To prevent any unfortunate collisions around the Red Planet, NASA is working on a new traffic management system.

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More details have been revealed about the X-37B spaceplane's upcoming OTV-4 mission. When it launches on May 20 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the (not entirely) secret X-37B will carry a NASA experiment called Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS) designed to test new materials for use in future spacecraft.

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The unmanned Progress 59 (M-27M) cargo spacecraft has burned up somewhere over the central Pacific ocean according to the Russian Federal Space Agency. Launched 10 days ago, it failed to reach the ISS due to a malfunction that prevented mission control from establishing contact shortly after launch.

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Around one week after it smashed spectacularly into Mercury, NASA's MESSENGER probe has posthumously turned up valuable observations revealing some of the planet's long-held secrets. Using data gleaned from the spacecraft's closest pass of the planet earlier this year, scientists have established its magnetic field to be almost 4 billion years old, shedding new light on how Mercury has evolved over its 4.5 billion year lifespan.

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