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Five questions about NASA's plans to visit an alien world in 2069

Earlier this month, New Scientist reported that NASA has plans in the works to visit Alpha Centauri. While the plan is reportedly “nebulous,” the space agency hopes to launch something by 2069. Here’s what we know: First things first: Why 2069? The proposed launch date may seem an odd (if rather giggle-worthy) choice. But NASA didn’t just pull this one out of their butts: While setting the agency’s budget back in 2016, Representative John Culberson of Texas called for NASA to send a mission to Alpha Centauri by 2069. He didn’t pull that date out of his butt, either; It’s an homage to the centennial anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Nice. If you feel like you’ve been seeing the number 69 all over your space news as of late, you’re right! New Horizons—the probe that flew past Pluto and is currently delving into the outermost regions of our fair solar system—has a 2019 encounter planned with a mysterious object dubbed MU69. You can find out more about how it wound up with that moniker here. For some reason, NASA is currently on the prowl for a good nickname for the celestial body. What’s Alpha Centauri and why would we go there? What with all the far-flung exoplanets scientists keep discovering using various telescopes, it’s easy to forget that we’ve only physically explored a very tiny corner of our galaxy. Voyager 1 only recently made it past the boundaries of our solar system. We literally just saw the first documented extrasolar hunk of space rock come careening through our neighborhood.

Read More: Popular Science

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