NASA wraps up stellar year of space travel to distant destinations

NASA has had quite a year. From the Juno mission to study Jupiter to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn, and New Horizons journey to Pluto and the outer reaches of the solar system, the space agency has traveled quite a distance in 2016 in its continued exploration of the universe and beyond.

The Juno deep space probe arrived at Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system and fifth from the sun, on July 4 after its launch in 2011.

NASA said the goal of the mission is to understand the “origin and evolution” of the planet. Juno’s mission includes mapping the planet’s magnetic fields, measuring water and ammonia in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and more.

NASA’s other robotic missions include the Cassini spacecraft, which is circling Saturn in its final year of orbit, studying the planet’s iconic rings close-up. The Cassini mission is scheduled to end next year with the probe’s crash into Saturn.

New Horizons, which arrived at Pluto in 2015 for a flyby, beamed back the last of its Pluto data late this year and is now traveling onward to an even more distant object in the Kuiper Belt.

The space agency is also making progress on its planned human mission to Mars in the 2030’s. This year NASA has been choosing its next generation of astronauts who will make deep space missions. They are  scheduled to begin training next summer.

Other major achievements for NASA in 2016 include the completion of the largest-ever space telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope was finished in November and is now on schedule for a 2018 launch. The agency also made strides in aeronautics research and robotic technology.