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(CNN)In the past year, a tiny helicopter flew on Mars, a NASA spacecraft slammed into an asteroid and the James Webb Space Telescope revealed dazzling new insights about the universe.
Beginning decades ago as ideas that seemed more like science fiction, these missions took years of research and testing to come to life.
Technological advances and scientific breakthroughs have transformed how we observe and investigate the cosmos. How will space exploration change in the coming decades, and what new possibilities will emerge?
These questions are at the heart of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program, or NIAC, which awards funding for concepts that could be part of future missions.
"NASA dares to make the impossible possible," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. "That's only achievable because of the innovators, thinkers, and doers who are helping us imagine and prepare for the future of space exploration. The NIAC program helps give these forward-thinking scientists and engineers the tools and support they need to spur technology that will enable future NASA missions."
The lastest NIAC competition selected 14 new concepts, awarding each $175,000 in January. Now, these researchers have nine months to use that funding toward refining and testing their ideas to see whether they can advance to the second phase of funding, which is $600,000 to flesh out their concepts and bring them closer to reality.
Only five projects have made it to the third phase during the NIAC program — $2 million to make something implementable.