Our Emissaries Across the Solar System
Earth has launched thousands of spacecraft, but precious few have made it beyond Earth orbit. Currently, 13 spacecraft representing 11 missions are actively gathering science data from planetary destinations. These are MESSENGER at Mercury; Venus Express at Venus; Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, GRAIL, and ARTEMIS at the Moon; Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Opportunity at Mars; Dawn at Vesta; and Cassini at Saturn.
Meanwhile, Curiosity is on its way to Mars, Rosetta to a comet, New Horizons to Pluto, and Akatsuki attempting to retry a Venus arrival, while Chang'E 2 and both Voyagers have turned from planetary to heliophysics missions, and IKAROS' condition is unknown. All of these missions follow in the footsteps of dozens of predecessors, the few human-built artifacts ever to have departed Earth.
Recent Mission Status Updates
Monday was the big Curiosity day at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. A morning press briefing was followed by an afternoon science session. I traveled to San Francisco briefly just to attend those two events. Here's my notes on the first science reports from the mission.
The Planetary Society has a new weekly Google+ Hangout time slot, Thursdays at noon PT / 1800 UT. This week, Casey Dreier and I talked about the Curiosity kerfuffle and NASA's future rover plans. Here's the archived recording.