Cosmic cooperation is just what space exploration needs | Tech News

Astronauts in space

NASA/Johnson Space Center

SPACE, as Douglas Adams once pithily observed, is big. Really big. Our attempts to explore it seem puny by comparison: only a dozen astronauts have walked on the moon, and nine space probes have visited the outer solar system.

But space exploration is more than the sum of its parts, and by collating what we learn about different space rocks we are piecing together a bigger picture. When NASA’s New Horizons probe arrived at Pluto in 2015, the dwarf planet’s make-up stumped researchers – until a comparison with findings by the ESA Rosetta spacecraft, which visited comet 67P in 2014, revealed it is perhaps made of a billion such comets, smashed and squeezed together to make a world (see “Pluto is not a planet – it’s a billion comets squished together”).

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ESA and NASA now plan to work together on a mission to gather what could be the most valuable rock of all: a pristine piece of Mars (see “We need to grab some rocks from Mars – let’s just get on with it”). Subjected to a full battery of tests on Earth, such a rock could help unlock one of the deepest mysteries: whether life ever spawned elsewhere.

In a world of straitened budgets, such cooperative ventures are to be welcomed – not least for the way they make space seem that little bit smaller.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Cosmic cooperation”

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