The cosmos is endlessly fascinating because of the mysteries it contains, but with exploration, we’re getting ever closer to shedding some light on the dark corners of space (or should we say, dark matters). Missions in the coming years hope to unlock secrets of extraterrestrial life, the early days of the solar system, and what might be in store for our precious home planet.

1. Valuable Geology Lessons

As much as we rely on space to thrill us with its inherent otherness, many of the benefits of exploring realms outside of Earth have to do with discovering what makes us similar to our cosmic brethren. Mars and Earth have some common characteristics, so if we can get there to explore, it may be a powerful teaching tool on the geological evolution of our own planet.

2. Life Outside of Earth

The possibility of extraterrestrial life has captured the imagination of the human race since the human race was able to imagine. While a fully-formed, highly intelligent, and pacific alien species would be a pretty neat discovery, more realistically, scientists hope to soon find evidence of past life or simply the promise of it. Methane and evidence of an ancient freshwater lake found on Mars mean that alien life might have been on our neighbor planet all along.

3. Life Beyond Earth

We still don’t know whether life beyond Earth’s orbit is feasible, but astronauts are increasingly testing the waters. They’re taking longer missions and taking up residence in space for months at a time, all of which is teaching scientists about how humans can not only survive, but thrive in the environs of deep space.

4. Answers To Lifes Big Questions

Perhaps the biggest question, actually: Scientists are still trying to figure out what the early days of our solar system looked like. Upcoming missions into the outer reaches of the solar system aim to shed some light on the formation of our home and what things were like in the good old days.

5. Personal Relationships with Asteroids (On Our Terms)

In the next few decades, scientists hope to visit a nearby asteroid, harness it, and redirect it into orbit around the moon. Then, astronauts can take samples from these remnants of the early universe to study back on Earth. Additionally, a cataclysmic asteroid impact isn’t just the stuff of movies; it’s a real life possibility (don’t panic though, there’s nothing currently on its way). Future missions into outer space will work toward observing asteroid systems, testing defensive measures, and hopefully, coming away with possible solutions if, someday, a giant piece of space rock starts barreling its way toward Earth.

6. And Comets, Too

Last year, scientists successfully landed a probe on one of these dusty ice balls (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko). Studying them is forcing scientists to reconsider the origin of liquid water on Earth, and could point to the origins of the organic compounds that served as building blocks for life. It’s possible that all the life on our Pale Blue Dot is thanks to a delivery system in the form of a billions-of-years-old visitor of the early solar system.

7. Discovering the Nature of Dark Matter

So-called dark matter has been the big head-scratcher of the physics world since it was first theorized. The stuff that takes up over a quarter of the universe is invisible to us, but now it seems we might be close to understanding and even creating the stuff. As researchers continue to make observations, map dark matter in the cosmos, and chart its behavior, facts about this hugely important component of our world become less opaque. A better understanding could someday allow scientists to know how and why our universe is composed the way it is.

8. Technology, Technology, Technology

The technology developed for space exploration has and will continue to extend to myriad other things. Image processing moved from the moon to the medical field, and technological advancements in cancer treatment, solar panels, lightweight materials, digital data storage, water purification, and satellite communication systems have all come from space programs and exploration. Not to mention memory foam! Who knows what sort of incredible advancements (and creature comforts) are in store for the future.

9. A Good Economy

Sound financial systems might not be as sexy as dark matter, but they’re a real byproduct of exploration initiatives. The space travel machine is comprised of many different cogs employing many different people, and on top of that, it encourages careers in science and engineering, creates new business, and rewards innovation. There’s also the added bonus of global partnerships among us humans, which seems like a good idea while we’re out seeking extraterrestrials.

10. Private Space Jaunts

The space race in the private sector is at an unparalleled point in history. While government-run deep space exploration is a bit different from say, a leisurely afternoon trip to the stars, the shared technology is helping to push the dream of recreational space flight into reality. We’re still a ways off from field trips to the moon, but as we push to the outer reaches of the solar system, space becomes more accessible at home for everyone.

11. Awesome Robots!

When it comes to hands-on exploration, robots are where it’s at. They’re able to travel far, collect samples, and do valuable reconnaissance work. In the future, they’ll be our partners in cosmic exploration. As robots get better, we’ll get better, and we’ll even be able to apply robot technology here on Earth.

Trips to Mars. A civilian space taxi. A jet that travels at hypersonic speeds. Learn how Boeing is advancing space exploration at Boeing.com.

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