Whilst the dominant scientific concern at the beginning of the new decade has been the very much rooted-on-Earth pandemic, excitement and renewed commitment to space exploration may see the 2020s eventually remembered for a surge of reignited interest in the Final Frontier. A new global space race is under way between the world’s major powers to be the first to unearth new secrets about our immediate celestial neighbourhood, the solar system.
Already in February 2021 we’ve seen NASA successfully land its Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars and then in April, NASA’s Ingenuity rotorcraft was the first ever human-made contraption to fly above the surface of Mars. Not wanting to miss out on the action, China also landed its Zhurong rover on Mars in May. Even the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sent a satellite to orbit around the red planet. Suffice to say, Mars is arguably humanity’s biggest tourist destination for 2021.
The above milestones and planned projects are just the tip of the iceberg. And of course, Europe is not sitting idly by as the rest of the world rediscovers its space legs. Recently, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched its Agenda 2025 that outlines how Europe can play its full role in space exploration and claim its fair share of a burgeoning global space economy. Specifically relating to further solar system exploration, Agenda 2025 ambitiously states that ESA will strive towards putting the first European on the Moon by the end of the 2020s and will have defined Europe’s role in the human exploration of Mars.
Supporting and underpinning these ambitions will be the dedicated research undertaken by hugely enthusiastic and talented European astronomers, many of whom are funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. Indeed, it’s not necessary to be an astronaut or a robotic rover or probe to contribute to the exploration of our solar system, much of the leg work is done down here on Earth. In this year’s dedicated space issue, we meet seven EU-funded projects that are positively contributing to Europe’s space ambitions.
Other topics in this edition include the following highlights:
- Augmented reality advances surgical procedures
- How a tiny wood-loving worm changed the course of world history
- Paving the way to trustworthy and reliable automated vehicles
- Tracking environmental change with the help of Cold War spy imagery
- Robotics to accurately monitor grape production in European vineyards
- Grass paper – a new contender in paper packaging
- Affordable and reliable internet access available to remote areas
- The Milky Way is draped in the hearts of extinct galaxies
- Synthetic cell models help researchers study the origins of life
The Research*eu magazine is the main source of information for all findings related to EU-funded science projects. It covers a large spectrum of scientific topics and is published 10 times per year in English (and online in five additional languages).
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