Most likely a massive believer of a future that involves soft robotic spacecraft, artificial gravity devices, and technologies that could give science fiction a run for its money, NASA has funded 22 interstellar projects that could change the face of space science and exploration.

The innovative concepts received money from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts or NIAC program.

Winning Projects: What Future Space Exploration Looks Like

“The program gives fellows the opportunity and funding to explore visionary aerospace concepts that we appraise and potentially fold into our early stage technology portfolio,” said NASA’s Space Technology Mission Doctorate associate administrator Steve Jurczyk in a statement, adding that NIAC seeks to engage researchers, scientific innovators, and agency civil servants in this initiative.

NIAC Phase 1 grants were awarded to 15 of the 22 concepts and provided about $125,000 for nine months of initial definition and analysis work for each project.

“A Synthetic Biology Architecture to Detoxify and Enrich Mars Soil for Agriculture,” an initiative by University of California Berkeley’s Adam Arkin along with his team, seeks to harness bioengineered microbes on Earth in order to potentially give rise to crops on planet Mars.

John Brophy, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, aims to use potent lasers for illuminating solar panels on traveling spacecraft, which would make the vehicles’s ion-propulsion systems lighter, far more efficient, and therefore faster in its probe.

So-called vacuum starships that do not depend on helium or hydrogen but instead keep an air-displacing interior vacuum could soon fly on Martian sky, if John-Paul Clarke of Georgia Institute of Technology succeeds in his “Evacuated Airship for Mars Mission” development.

Other innovative concepts feature interstellar spacecraft solely powered via Mach effects, a Pluto-hopping space vehicle, a Turbolift system for inducing artificial gravity, and a tiny probe hovering above the surface of Martian moon Phobos, to name a few.

NIAC Phase 2 Grants In Focus

Seven more concepts, which previously received a Phase 1 grant, also received NIAC Phase 2 grants worth up to $500,000 for two more years of development.

This year’s Phase 2 portfolio, according to NASA, comprises a wide range of concepts. The lineup involves a Venus probe harnessing in-situ power and propulsion for investigation the Venusian atmosphere, a high-powered laser for studying the composition of asteroids and other heavenly objects, and an ultra-robust rover that can win against harsh conditions on Venus, Mercury, and other planetary bodies.

The hope is for the grantees to “change the possible” as what NIAC does best, according to program executive Jason Derleth.

This Thursday, April 13 at 2 p.m. EDT, NASA is holding a major press briefing to reveal the latest results on ocean worlds in our solar system. At the mysterious event, the agency will reveal findings on its “broader search for life” beyond our planet, along with discoveries that could affect future exploration of ocean worlds.

The announcement is tied to data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and its Hubble Space Telescope. While held at the NASA headquarters, it will also involve experts positioned in different parts of the country.

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