Flying with Ion Power

NASA launches a smart new breed of spacecraft

One of the most daring deep-space missions NASA has ever planned is turning out to be one of the least publicized. The target is a large asteroid named 1992KD, which orbits the sun millions of miles from Earth. But that destination is almost incidental to the performance of the spacecraft that will make the trip. Though it looks little different from countless other unmanned probes NASA has launched, the ship will be navigated by an electronic brain that has been likened to HAL, the independent-minded computer in the film 2001, and will move through space under power of a system that...

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