Mars Science Laboratory
Launching in the fall, this research rover will collect and examine Martian soil and rock samples for traces of carbon, life’s most common building block. To find that carbon, ChemCam will fire lasers at the ground and analyze the vapor produced by the impact.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
NASA is going back to the moon—after the LRO finds astronauts a good place to land. Launching on April 24, the LRO will map out the moon’s surface and home in on the poles, where scientists believe there could be water.

Read more of Popular Science’s predictions for 2009.