In pictures: 20 key NASA projects in 2009

From the space shuttle and Mars mission to water on the moon and ice on the Earth, NASA has its hands in a variety of critical projects

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Hot stuff here: NASA in April made one of the most important decisions for the future of its space flights - the heat shield material that will protect future space explorers from the hellish heat of space travel. The space agency went with a technology it was quite familiar with, a fiberglass, silica, epoxy combination known as Avcoat. The heat protection technology was used on the current space shuttle missions as well as the Apollo spacecrafts, NASA said.

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In pictures: 20 key NASA projects in 2009

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