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Emily LakdawallaDecember 22, 2017

These are a few of our favorite things: Top 2017 planetary stories

2017 is almost over. It's been a rough year for some of us, but, looking back, we here at The Planetary Society are proud of what we have accomplished during this orbit of the Sun. Here's a list of some of planetary.org's top stories of 2017, but first, I wanted to provide space to my colleagues Jason Davis, Casey Dreier, and Mat Kaplan to reflect on what they're proud of from 2017.

From Jason Davis: Until I looked back through my articles, I had forgotten about my story on why SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket suddenly exploded on the launch pad in 2016. That was a good investigative piece, requiring me to find a knowledgeable source and convince her to trust me with her identity. The story I'm most proud of, overall, is our feature on the past, present and future of SETI. I love feature writing where I only have a minimal understanding of the subject ahead of time; starting from scratch can be both terrifying and liberating. It took a lot of research, interviews and fact-checking, and I worked with several Planetary Society staff members to round out the story with infographics and video. Mat Kaplan also recorded an accompanying Planetary Radio episode. It was a fun team effort, and familiarized me with a subject I now find much more interesting.

From Casey Dreier: 2017 was an unprecedented year for The Society’s Space Policy & Advocacy team. We hired another full-time staff member in Washington, D.C., bringing us to three people on two coasts. This enabled us to greatly increase our capability to represent you effectively in Washington. This is good, because it was a busy year given a new Congress and Administration took power in January. We kicked off the year with the release of formal recommendations for the space program to the Trump Administration, featuring a video of Bill Nye viewed over one million times. In the Spring we released a report on the state of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, and used it to help increase congressional funding for the Mars program and drive NASA to (finally!) state its intent to pursue sample return. We celebrated the end of the Cassini mission with a very successful event at the Library of Congress, which brought together space scientists and members of Congress and their staff. We closed out the year by helping to kill a proposal to increases taxes on hard-working graduate students. I am also proud of the 12 original episodes of the Space Policy Edition podcast we recorded, which I believe provide unique insight and access on space history and politics.

From Mat Kaplan: I love creating Planetary Radio, and I loved every single one of the episodes made and all of the terrific guests I hosted in 2017.  This made picking favorites difficult and entirely unfair.  I can't help thinking of "Long Live Cassini!" and "Celebrating Cassini...Live!" as one long and well-deserved tribute to the magnificent Cassini mission.  Not one but two former NASA leaders were in tears as I spoke to them. Also listen to "Julie Webster and the Art of Spacecraft Endurance" -- Julie was the last person to stick her head inside the Cassini spacecraft, and she was the person most responsible for keeping it running through all those amazing years at Saturn. It is always a profound honor to talk with Ed Stone, the former JPL Director who has been the Voyager Project Scientist for more than four decades, as I did for the Voyagers' 40th anniversary show. Many of my most thrilling shows were live events, like "Planetary Radio Live on the Eve of the Eclipse." We were just hours from watching the total solar eclipse at Southern Illinois University. "Planetary Radio Live: Living on Mars" was an utterly fascinating talk with experts who are figuring out how men and women will someday live and thrive on the Red Planet. Lastly, I'm proud of the first full year of Space Policy Edition shows created with my colleagues Casey Dreier and Jason Callahan.  Listen to them throughout 2018 on the last Friday of each month!

As for me, your senior editor and planetary evangelist Emily Lakdawalla, I think it's pretty clear what I'm proudest of: finishing and submitting the manuscript for my first book, The Design and Engineering of Curiosity, which is now available for pre-order and should be released in early March. Working on the book took me away from the blog this year (although my ongoing research did yield highly detailed Curiosity updates). Still, I managed to post a few of the kinds of articles I think help other people the most. I pride myself on detailed advanced "what to expect" posts like the one with plans for the OSIRIS-REx Earth flyby and Cassini end of mission, because I can help make other science communicators' coverage of the events better. I like to process inaccessible data sets like the Mars Orbiter Mission photos and then sit back and watch as the broader audience of space image processing enthusiasts makes art from them. And I really like diving deeply into science and engineering puzzles like Juno's gravity results and Curiosity's balky drill, because I continually hear from scientists how they value my articles to keep them up-to-date on topics outside their areas of expertise. All three kinds of articles take a lot of time. I think my reduced publication rate will continue into 2018, but it's because I am most proud of the work that results from this kind of effort.

Top Stories

Following are some of The Planetary Society's most popular articles from 2017.

NASA unveiled new plans for getting humans to Mars, and hardly anyone noticed (April 7)

Jason Davis does great work providing context to NASA human-spaceflight announcements, so I wasn't surprised to see this story among the most popular.

Wonderful potentially habitable worlds around TRAPPIST-1 (February 22)

I was pleased to see a guest post among the year's most-read posts. When scientists like Franck Marchis volunteer to put big news into scientific context, I always jump at the opportunity to publish them. (Aside to scientists: It's a lot of work to maintain your own blog. Why not just write the occasional article for The Planetary Society?)

Is there anybody out there? (October 25)

Jason also mentioned this above, but I wanted to highlight again this wonderful deep dive into the past, present, and future of SETI.

Cassini: The Dying of the Light (September 15)

A bittersweet moment -- an end of a spacecraft, a reunion of a science team and of the journalists who followed the mission for so long, and a reflection on a mission well run.

Did a Planetary Society citizen scientist help find one of Earth’s biggest impact craters? (June 12)

The Planetary Society seeks to change the world by empowering the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, and Jason's article about Society-funded scientist Max Rocca's work on a potential major Earth impact is exemplary of this.

Curiosity's balky drill: the problem and solutions (September 6)

Jason's pick: Emily knows Curiosity better than almost anyone, and I mean that quite sincerely—she literally wrote the book on the subject. This deeply researched article explains what happened to the rover's drill, and the struggle to get it working again.

We all hope to bring the same quality of work to new stories in 2018!

Read more: about science writing, personal stories

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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla (2017, alternate)
Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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