Despite its rejection by the NRC Committee, we argue that the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is an affordable and logical first step in such a sequence. ARM is not only consistent with the NRC Committee’s own principles, but is also the only near- term initiative that can shape their recommendations into a sustainable human space exploration program. ARM would launch U.S. explorers into deep space beyond the Moon, and fits logically into an exploration program aimed at Mars.
On Monday JPL put out a press release marking one year since Curiosity landed -- one Mars year, that is! There was a new version of the Kimberley self-portrait, and a video update on wheel wear testing. While we've been celebrating on Earth, Curiosity has been driving, driving, driving, on a new "safe transit route" taking her southward toward the black sand dunes ringing Mount Sharp.
The two spacecraft currently orbiting the two innermost planets are both flying low in their orbits in the final phases of their missions. MESSENGER just performed a rocket burn to raise its orbit slightly, while Venus Express did the opposite.
I am both elated and relieved that Rob Manning and William Simon have written Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer. The book delivers on the promise of its title, in a slender volume that is full of great stories you'll read nowhere else.
Rosetta has now completed its three largest rendezvous burns as it approaches ever closer to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Beginning on July 2, Rosetta will now conduct weekly burns, through August 6. Meanwhile, the cometary activity of April and May has quieted again, leaving the comet looking smaller than it did before.
Will New Horizons have a mission after Pluto? Ground-based searches have failed to turn up anything that New Horizons can reach. Now Hubble is joining the search, but time is running out: a discovery must be made within the next two months.
Curiosity has been busy. The rover has traveled more than half a kilometer since my last update, making steady progress beyond the Kimberley toward Murray Buttes. There hasn't been much time for science, but they sneaked in an observation of a Mercury transit across the sun, and a neat MARDI video of the rover driving.
This week the OSIRIS-REx team gathered at the Lockheed Martin facility in Denver to perform a “Design Reference Mission (DRM)” walkthrough. The DRM is basically the battle plan for OSIRIS-REx for accomplishing our goal of returning pristine samples from asteroid Bennu.