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
A mind-boggling quantity of information is being presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. In my first report from the meeting, I try to make sense of the Curiosity and Opportunity sessions.
The news from the Curiosity mission today is this: Curiosity has found, at the site called John Klein, a rock that contains evidence for a past environment that would have been suitable for Earth-like microorganisms.