Jennifer VaughnDec 31, 2014

A Look Back at an Amazing Year

As excited as we are to jump into 2015, I want to take time to reflect on the year coming to a close and applaud all that we’ve accomplished working together. It was an outstanding year and we owe it all to you: the tens of thousands of citizen explorers pushing space exploration forward. Thank you!

For those of you who prefer to listen, check out the most recent Planetary Radio episode, featuring Mat Kaplan talking about 2014 with Bruce Betts, Casey Dreier, Emily Lakdawalla, and Bill Nye.

For those who prefer to watch, check out our year-in-review video.

But for those who prefer to read, please read on!

Bill likes to say we do three things:

We Create

  • LightSail 1 has a launch date! The Planetary Society's solar sailing spacecraft is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy in April 2016.
  • We announced a new project with exoplanet hunter Debra Fischer and her team, the Exoplanets Laser project. We will support the purchase of an advanced, ultra stable laser used in a complex system they are designing to push radial velocity exoplanet hunting to a whole new level.
  • We have new collaboration with Honeybee Robotics to develop a prototype drill that could allow drilling hundreds of meters, possibly kilometers, through planetary ices.
  • The PlanetVac prototype is complete and the results were presented at IEEE Aerospace Conference.
  • NASA selected The Planetary Society to study accommodation of the Society’s LIFE (Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment) bio module on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).
  • NASA selected The Planetary Society as an education outreach partner on the Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z instrument, led by Jim Bell, Planetary Society Board President and Arizona State University professor.
  • Seven possible interstellar dust grains have been found by Stardust@home, a citizen scientist project that The Planetary Society supported. 

We Advocate

  • After more than two years of fighting to reverse budget cuts to planetary science at NASA, we celebrate the best planetary science budget in three years: $1.44 billion—just shy of our goal of $1.5 billion. We still have work to do, but we see our efforts paying off!
  • Bill's "Open Letter to the President" asking President Obama to make exploration a priority received nearly 1 million views. 
  • We hand delivered thousands of petitions to Congress urging them to restore funding for planetary science.
  • Jim Bell testified in congress about the importance of continued funding for planetary science.
  • Our director of advocacy, Casey Dreier, along with Bill Nye and other Society leaders made eight trips to Washington, DC to visit congress members, staffers, and NASA leadership.
  • We held two standing-room-only events on Capitol Hill: The Lure of Europa and Past Life? Present Life? The Future of Solar System Exploration.
  • Our lobbyist, Bill Adkins, is putting in twice as many hours on our behalf. We also added a new member to our advocacy team, Jason Callahan, who is providing crucial research and historical perspective.
  • We co-hosted the Space Exploration Alliance's Legislative Blitz in Washington, DC.

We Educate

  • We collected hundreds of thousands of names to fly on the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu.
  • We were part of the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, including a memorable Planetary Radio Live with Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe.
  • Our director of science and technology, Dr. Bruce Betts, taught his free online astronomy course.
  • Our social media audience exploded – we started with about 150,000 combined followers (Facebook, Twitter, and Google+) and ended the year with more than 3 million.
  • With the outstanding contributions of our senior editor and planetary evangelist Emily Lakdawalla, we excelled in reporting the activities of international missions, such as Yutu, Rosetta, and Mars Orbiter Mission.
  • We developed the Bruce Murray Space Image Library.
  • We celebrated 10 Years on Mars with the Opportunity Birthday Party.
  • We launched the Random Space Fact video series.
  • We participated in professional events, such as DPS, GSA, AGU, LPSC, Space Symposium, and IAC.
  • We hosted seven Planetary Radio Live events, including We See Thee Rise in Toronto, where we announced our network of Canadian volunteers.
  • With the inspiring leadership of our volunteer network manager, Kate Howells, our volunteer Outreach Coordinators grew from 13 to 35. The volunteer leaders are developing events and educational activities for their local communities.

Over the year, we also made strides in strengthening our organization. No year-end summary would be complete without mentioning the extraordinary $4.2 million gift from an anonymous donor. The gift has challenged us to take bigger steps and act quickly. It’s also motivated us to plan more thoroughly and over longer periods. To that end, we completed a 3-year strategic plan, hired six new staff members, signed a lease on a new building for headquarters, and grew our long-term fund, the Carl Sagan Fund for the Future, to more than $1 million.

Indeed, 2014 was an outstanding year for The Planetary Society, and 2015—our 35th Anniversary year—looks to be even better. Expect more on LightSail, planetary defense, human exploration, New Horizons at Pluto, and new videos and events. The best is yet to come!

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