The space snowman that was the focus of a close encounter with NASA's New Horizons probe last year is helping scientists answer a cosmic question: How did the building blocks of the solar system get their start?

"This is a game-changer," said Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute and principal investigator for the New Horizons mission.

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NASA says it'll take applications for its next class of astronauts between March 2 and 31 — the first step in what's expected to be a yearlong selection process.

To start the process, would-be spacefliers should click into USAJobs.com next month. For the first time in NASA history, applicants will be required to fill out a detailed online assessment that could take as long as two hours to complete.

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It's been a dream of scientists for generations: actually studying samples of Martian soil for signs of life. With Monday's announcement of President Donald Trump's 2021 budget for NASA, that dream appears likely to be funded and on the cusp of becoming reality.

The more than $25 billion budget is a 12% increase from last year's and would be NASA's largest in decades, investing in a variety of ongoing scientific, technological and aerospace goals. It is in contrast to the proposed deep cuts that would hit domestic programs, like food stamps, federal housing assistance, and Medicaid, federal disability and student loan programs.

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