NASA wants to send a spacecraft to Proxima Centauri, Earth’s nearest stellar neighbor, in the next 50 years or so.
Scientists from the U.S. space agency recently presented a paper at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall 2017 meeting in New Orleans, discussing the same. The researchers talked about a possible future mission, which would need a spacecraft traveling at a tenth of the speed of light. The agency is working on developing such a spacecraft by 2069.
Proxima Centauri Mission 2069
Anthony Freeman from the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory spoke at length on his paper titled The First Interstellar Explorer: What should it do when it Arrives at its Destination?
The researcher talked about the probable project, a 40-year-long mission to travel to the exoplanet, which is located in the habitable zone of one of the nearest stellar neighbors of the solar system. It would be one of the most ambitious undertakings of mankind.
The project has not been named formally yet as it is too early in the day and the technology needed for most of the mission steps does not exist yet. Freeman, however, added that there is still time in hand to work on the technicalities as the mission will be launched only after 50 years.
"It's very nebulous," Freeman said.
The mission will be divided into six stages, the first of which is the simplest as it consists of traveling outside the solar system, a feat that the Voyager 1 spacecraft has already accomplished.
The other five stages include surviving the journey to Proxima Centauri, lowering the speed on approach, making a trajectory adjustment for a near encounter, getting data, and relaying the information collected back to Earth. All the five stages needed technological advances that are still beyond the current capabilities of mankind.
Proxima Centauri - Solar System’s Closest Stellar Neighbor
The smallest of the Alpha Centauri system’s three stars, the Proxima Centauri, is a red dwarf star that is located around four light-years away. The star system is also home to Proxima b, an exoplanet that has the size of Earth, which was discovered in 2016. The planet orbits its host star at around 4 million kilometers.
Proxima b is said to be a probable candidate for being able to support life, in spite of its close distance to the Proxima Centauri. Any probe that travels close to the planet is going to search for alien life signs on it or at least try to determine if it can support life.
2069 will be the 100th anniversary of humans stepping on an extraterrestrial surface for the first time a man landed on the moon in 1969. Thus, launching the interstellar mission in that year will act as a tribute to the U.S. space agency’s earlier accomplishment.