Don't get us wrong -- the landing of the Mars rover was a magnificent scientific achievement and a solemn testament to our species' ability to not completely screw things up every now and again. Unfortunately, rovers are not the stuff of laughably overwrought Aerosmith songs that you hear at junior proms. But what about these future missions? Well, they each deserve their own double album of Steven Tyler's trademark imitation of a humpback whale's death knell.
#5. A Manned Mission to Mars
Even though the old space shuttle program has been euthanized, manned missions to space aren't over. Behold the Orion spacecraft. The capsule bears a striking resemblance to the old Apollo landers, but it's 10 times safer than the old space shuttle. And those things that look like helicopter pads? They're actually solar panels, so the ship itself can support astronauts for up to six months during deep space missions. This means we're going to the Red Planet, but not until at least 2021, as printing out all those "YO MARS, WE TOTALLY PENETRATED YOUR STRATOSPHERE" T-shirts takes awhile (and devising a better slogan takes even longer).
#4. HAL 9000's Distant, Legless Ancestor
This may look like the unholy love child of RoboCop and Super Mario Kart, but it's actually Robonaut, NASA's anthropomorphic robot that lives on the International Space Station, completing tasks too dangerous (and boring) for human astronauts. Robonaut is a wheeled warrior for now, but future upgrades will include legs (and hopefully neural implants that will encourage this robot to cosplay as a Star Wars character other than Boba Fett).
Of course, their resemblance to Mr. Fett is entirely coincident-
Somebody call Disney's legal team.
#3. A Chance to Join the 70-Mile-High Club
Sure, the next manned NASA missions won't launch for years, but if you win the lottery, your dreams of becoming an astronaut without all that pesky training could come true. Virgin Group billionaire/ unintentional Ted DiBiase impersonator Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is sending people to space, and Branson's second model and launch craft have already been tested.
If all goes according to Branson's master plan, Virgin Galactic's two pilots and six passengers will gaze upon the arc of the Earth from more than 62 miles into the atmosphere, with Virgin spaceports dotting the entire globe. If you want to buy a ticket -- and happen to have $200,000 on hand -- get in line. More than 500 of the world's top scientific minds (such as Ashton Kutcher) have plunked down the $20,000 deposit for this space ride. At least Stephen Hawking's been offered his ride gratis.
#2. Landing on a Comet as It Screams Through the Universe
While NASA was busy sending robots to Mars, the European Space Agency was working on its Rosetta project, which presumably operated under the mission statement "Screw Mars! Let's put robots on comets!"
Rosetta is currently on an unprecedented mission to the absolutely-nightmarish-to-pronounce comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenkoand. And when Rosetta arrives in late 2014, it's going to enter the comet's orbit and launch a probe onto the surface. This type of close study will tell us a lot about the universe's formation, as comets are the ancient remnants of that process. Yes, comets are exactly like Tyrannosaurus fossils, if petrified Tyrannosaurus skulls hurtled through the unfathomable darkness of space at terrifying speeds.
#1. Dive-Bombing the Living Shit Out of the Sun
Solar Probe Plus is currently under construction, slated to launch in 2018, and seemingly took its mission cues from the movie Sunshine. Like a silently asphyxiating Lex Luthor who pushed Superman's buttons just once too often, Solar Probe Plus will dive into the sun's corona and explore such mysteries as "Why the hell is the sun's corona so much hotter than its surface?" and "How exactly do solar winds work?"
Mind you, nothing on Earth can withstand the corona's temperatures long enough to even reach the sun, and it's predicted that the probe will only make it within 4 million miles. But for us mere humans, that's really goddamn close to the sun. So no, it's with great sadness that we must report that nobody's going to have a body-disintegrating cosmic orgasm as a result of the Solar Probe Plus mission.
"There are some monkeys in there, but only bad ones."