Since its founding in 1958, NASA has done incredible things to ensure that the United States remains a key player in the study and exploration of outer space. From high-tech rovers to sending people to the Moon, it’s sometimes hard to believe their technology could get more advanced.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happened thanks to an invention that’s been in the making, set to change everything. What it’s capable of is fascinating — and when you see what NASA is expecting it to do, you’ll be filled with some serious excitement…

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has long been regarded as one of the most cutting-edge institutions in the world. To achieve that lofty status, however, it’s had to do some pretty remarkable things, and it might have just topped itself.

From launching the Space Shuttle Program to the first-ever moon landing, its track record speaks for itself. Yet, even long after the “space race” has ended, the folks who work there are still ready to introduce something groundbreaking.

It took several years and billions of dollars, but the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has finally been completed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland—and astronomers everywhere couldn’t be more excited…

Made up of 18 hexagonal mirrors, each plated with gold, the JWST has 100 times the observing power of the famous Hubble telescope, which was previously the most powerful telescope in the world.

1-give-me-some-spaceNASA / Chris Gunn

“Upon completion, Webb will be the largest and most complex space observatory that anyone on planet Earth has ever built,” NASA administrator Charlie Bolden said in a statement. “It will capture the imagination and dreams of millions who dare to look to the sky and wonder.”

When it launches in October 2018, the JWST will be positioned well beyond the Moon’s orbit. Thus, it will have a completely unobstructed view while it floats in outer space. It’s not just the more powerful than all other telescopes, though…

It’s also different from the Hubble because it will use infrared technology to see everything from galaxies to exoplanets. The infrared views, combined with the power of the 18 gold-plated mirrors, allow it to see through cosmic dust. That’s right—cosmic dust.

However, the JWST has been plagued with delays (it was originally supposed to launch in 2011), and its $1 billion budget has ballooned to $8.7 billion over the course of its construction. Understandably, that means there’s a lot of pressure surrounding the launch…

NASA will need months of additional testing to ensure that JWST makes it past the Moon. Unlike Hubble, which has benefitted from numerous manned missions for repairs and upgrades, the Webb will be too far away to be able to be serviced.

Still, while it’s taken over 20 years, it won’t be long until we’ll start seeing images of the cosmos like we never would have been able to imagine before. Really, the possibilities are pretty insane…

To give you an idea of some of the things the JWST would be able to achieve, just take a look at some of the most mind-blowing facts astrophysicists have learned since space exploration started heating up…

To gain some perspective about our planet’s position in the solar system, consider that this is what it looks like from a zoomed-out aerial view. See how tiny our planet is in comparison to the others?

Thanks to space exploration, we know that this is the distance, to scale, between the Earth and the Moon. Can you believe we were able to send astronauts there almost 50 years ago? Just imagine what we could do nowadays!

If you were to stand on the Moon, this is exactly the way the Earth would appear. You would obviously have a crystal-clear view of the planet and its atmosphere. Still, this incredible view pales in comparison to the ones we’ll soon see thanks to the JWTS.

Without tools like the Hubble, there’s no way we would know there are thousands of different galaxies in the universe, or that each one contains millions of its own unique solar systems. Imagine what the Webb is going to show us?

Not to mention, there’s certainly not a chance we would have known that, 10 billion light years away from our planet, there is the amazing and enormous spiral galaxy known as UDF 423…

There’s a good chance we never would’ve learned about VY Canis Majoris—the largest known star in the universe—if it wasn’t for such innovative technology. Here, you can see how much larger it is than our own Sun.

As American astronomer, Carl Sagan once said, “Everyone and everything you have ever known exists on that little speck.” This is what Earth would look like from Neptune, by the way!

What’s also mind-blowing is that everything we’ve seen in space through our various forms of exploration only represents a small fraction of the universe in its entirety. There’s still so much unexplored territory to be discovered!

It’s easy to see why space exploration is so integral. Without it, we would just be floating through the cosmos, blissfully unaware of everything else that’s out there. Thankfully, the JWST could help us understand more about our universe, just like the Hubble did.

And speaking about giant leaps in space exploration… In some ways, 17-year-old Alyssa Carson from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is just like any teenager. She plays soccer with her friends and chess with her dad. But even she wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s a regular teen.

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While kids her age fill out college applications or worry about their lives after high school, Alyssa has her eyes on another kind of application—one with a chance to change not just her life, but the world itself.

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The second she turns 18 in 2019, Alyssa plans on filling out the application for NASA’s astronaut training program. Her hope isn’t to study on the International Space Station or leap on the moon like Neil Armstrong. Her ambitions go even further.  

If everything goes according to Alyssa’s plan, she’ll be the first human being ever to step foot on Mars! And this isn’t some silly teenage dream: her dedication to this goal makes even the most committed workaholics’ head spin.

Her interest in space started at just three years old. Little Alyssa watched an episode of the kids’ cartoon Backyardigans where barnyard animals, below, went on a trip to Mars. After the episode, the curious little girl went to her father, Bert.

She asked him if human beings have ever been to Mars. “I explained to her that we’d been to the moon, but not Mars,” Bert said. “But it would be her generation to become the Mars generation.” From that moment on, the Red Planet fascinated her.

“I started watching videos of rovers landing on Mars,” Alyssa says. “I had a gigantic map of Mars in my room I would look at. We started getting telescopes so we could look at space.” At age seven, she had a career breakthrough…

It was then her dad took her to NASA’s space camp in Huntsville, Alabama. “That was the weekend of my life,” she recalls. “I got to learn everything I had been wanting to know and more…I got to see a life-size rocket.” But one trip to space camp wasn’t enough.

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Over the years, she returned to NASA’s camps a whopping 18 times. By age 12 she became the first person in history to attend all of NASA’s space camps located throughout the world in Alabama; Quebec, Canada; and Izmir, Turkey. She was only getting started.

Alyssa undertakes any space-related activity she can get within a finger’s length of. “She’s the youngest to ever graduate from Advanced Space Academy,” her father noted. “She got her rocket license before getting a [driver’s] permit.”

NASA

The teenager also regularly participates in simulated space missions and physical preparedness training; she builds robots and rockets and regularly takes weeks off from her college-level coursework—which she performs in four different languages—for additional training.

“Sometimes coming back to high school can be boring compared to this,” says the girl who’s earning certificates in diving to “build [her] resumé.” But when will her passion and drive actually see the payoff? Are humans even close to going to Mars?

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Well, on March 21st, 2017, NASA was assigned a very special mission: get human beings to Mars by the year 2033. Just one week later, the agency released a five-phase plan to make it happen…

Phases zero through three will see rocket testing—which is already underway, below—deep space transportation, and study of deep space living. By 2033, NASA plans on sending humans on the nine-month trip to Mars—hopefully with a then-32-year-old Alyssa included.

 With her eyes on such a far-off prize, Alyssa understands the sacrifices she must make in her modern day life. “The idea of having a family,” Alyssa says, “is something NASA would want you to consider once you come back from Mars.” In other words…

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“It’s a place we’ve never been to, and it’s a dangerous mission,” she says. “Having someone you love on earth, that’s a distraction.” Romance, then, is off the table for another 15 years. But potential relationships aren’t the only ones affected by Alyssa’s plans.

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“Every time Alyssa talks about having to go to space,” Camille Taylor, left, Alyssa’s best friend, says, “it makes me sad because I’m saying, ‘oh she’s going to leave me one day.'” Her father echoes that sadness.

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Bert recognizes the dangers of space travel. As former International Space Station commander Chris Hadfield, below, explained in a 2018 interview, right now, “the majority of the astronauts that we [would send on Mars] missions wouldn’t make it.”

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Space travel in cramped quarters could drive a person crazy. Deep-space radiation would bring incredibly high cancer risks. Not to mention, more than one cleared-to-launch rocket has just straight up exploded. Bert, however, considers another factor, too.

Joel Kowsky / NASA

If all goes according to NASA’s plan, Alyssa would spend three years on the Red Planet, growing food and performing experiments, essentially making it livable for colonizing humans. The idea is practically unbearable to the loving dad.

“I still have to look at it as a father,” he said, fighting back tears, “that I’ll have my child for 20 more years and then I may not ever see her again. And that’s hard. But for what she’s wanting to do I have to support her.” Indeed, her mission might be crucial to the survival of mankind.

Alyssa Carson / Facebook

Alyssa believes that a “single-planet species will become extinct. Just going to Mars will show people that we can move on from planet Earth”—a planet humans have inarguably done damage to over the millennia.

“Even though there’s a lot of risk in going to Mars, I believe that the rewards are so much greater,” Alyssa says. And her father, sad as the idea of losing his daughter makes him, couldn’t agree more. “This is bigger than the two of us,” he says.

And that’s why Alyssa’s relentless in her pursuit of getting to Mars. NASA is even “more precise about who they want for [the Mars] mission,” Alyssa says. It “motivates me to put in the hard work now to…help me stand out.”

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And in 2015, she added another impressive line on her resume. She was the youngest person ever accepted into PoSSUM Academy—a program “preparing people for space flight.”

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Amazingly—though maybe not so surprisingly by this point—the teenager already has aspirations for her time after Mars: she wants to be a teacher—which she’s already done a bit of!—or president of the United States. No doubt, she shoots far beyond the moon.

Alyssa Carson / Facebook

Chances are, Alyssa Carson will be among the first humans to set foot on Mars. Her secret to success? “I don’t think there’s anything specifically that makes it easier for me or that others can’t do,” she says. “It’s just something I’ve really focused myself on.”

Take a look at even more of the studies and exercises Alyssa undertakes to become the best possible astronaut in the video below. Humankind will be in great hands if she makes it all the way to Mars!