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

Speaking of hot plasma: Astronauts and satellite integrated circuits are at most risk of an ongoing tempest of galactic cosmic rays that scientists say is at an all-time high. According to observations by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in October, galactic cosmic rays come from outside the solar system and are made up of subatomic particles accelerated to almost light speed by distant supernova explosions. Cosmic rays cause showers of particles when they hit Earth's atmosphere but they pose their greatest health hazard, radiation, to astronauts in space. They aren't too healthy for satellites either as a single cosmic ray can disable the unit if one hits an unlucky integrated circuit, NASA said.

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