NASA 2018 To-Do List: Land on Mars, Bring Space Rock Home, Touch the Sun and More

Plenty of people like to spend the last few days of an old year planning what they'd like to accomplish in the new one. But typically, that list isn't quite as ambitious as the video to-do list NASA has released recounting its 2018 plans. The video details 18 launches, projects and goals that the agency wants to focus on this year.

Some of the highlights are launches you may already have heard about. The Mars Insight lander is due to launch in May and land in time to celebrate Thanksgiving on the Red Planet. Once it arrives, it will spend its time studying the interior of Mars, including tracking so-called "Marsquakes," which could tell planetary geologists what the inside of the planet is made of. And Mars Insight won't just teach us about Mars—learning more about the Red Planet's formation will also tell us more about Earth's early days.

Another 2018 highlight project is already flying to its destination: the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which launched in 2016 and is bound for an asteroid called Bennu. It's due to arrive in August, when it will carefully snag a piece of the space rock to bring home to Earth for scientists to study.

An artist's depiction of what the Parker Solar Probe will look like approaching our sun. NASA/JHUAPL

Two more exciting launches will mark the summer of 2018: the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the Parker Solar Probe. TESS will stare at 200,000 stars, looking for tiny decreases in their brightness caused by exoplanets passing between the star and the telescope. Scientists think it should be able to identify at least 1,500 potential alien worlds, with about 500 of them being the size of one or two Earths. The Parker Solar Probe, which will launch in August, will spend seven years inching carefully toward the sun, becoming the first spacecraft to fly into the sun's corona, its outermost layer where temperatures reach 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Read more: NASA Took Our Breath Away in 2017, From the Total Solar Eclipse to Jupiter's Beautiful Great Red Spot

In addition to these blockbuster projects, NASA will be working on long-standing goals, like making sonic booms quieter, which could make supersonic flight more common, and flying the X-57, an experimental electric plane designed to make flights greener and cheaper. The agency will also continue to study Earth, launching satellites that will measure ice and map forests.

And of course, NASA will keep its eye on the ultimate prize: Putting humans back into space. This year, as a first step, it wants to work with American companies to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from bases in the U.S. It's also working with businesses to design new ways to live in space, designed not just to augment the space station, but also to take humans back to the moon, and eventually even to Mars.