The Planetary Report

September Equinox 2020

From Our Member Magazine

A Planetary Society Retrospective

How do you top landing humans on the Moon? For NASA, the answer was planetary exploration. Spacecraft built by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California filled the 1970s with planetary firsts: Mariner 9 orbited Mars, Mariner 10 flew past Mercury, Pioneer 10 visited Jupiter, and Pioneer 11 made it to Saturn. The Viking probes performed the first Mars landing in 1976, and a year later, the dual Voyager probes embarked on a grand tour of the solar system.

Things looked less rosy at the end of the decade. The high-dollar Viking and Voyager programs came at a cost, stifling the development of smaller missions. Meanwhile, the fledgling Space Shuttle program was behind schedule, over budget, and gobbling up more and more of NASA’s budget. Policymakers used a perceived lack of public interest in planetary exploration as an excuse to slash budgets further, and at one point in the early 1980s, NASA seriously considered divesting itself from JPL altogether.

Bruce Murray, a California Institute of Technology planetary scientist who had played key roles in many NASA planetary exploration firsts, took command of JPL in 1976. Murray was alarmed at the situation, as was Carl Sagan, a Cornell University astronomer who was making a name for himself as a public science communicator. Murray and Sagan wanted to build a grassroots advocacy group to prove there was public support for planetary exploration. They identified Louis Friedman, a JPL engineer who was finishing a 1-year fellowship in Washington, D.C. learning the inner workings of Congress, as the potential organizer of such an organization. On 30 November 1979, Murray, Sagan, and Friedman formed The Planetary Society. According to its formation documents, The Planetary Society was founded to spread public awareness of planetary exploration and the search for life, share the latest findings from those efforts, and stimulate the development of new science and technology projects.

Planetary Society Co-Founders
Planetary Society Co-Founders Planetary Society co-founders Bruce Murray, Carl Sagan, and Louis Friedman pose outside the Society's office in 1989. The Planetary Society

Forty years later, none of that has changed except the addition of defending Earth from dangerous asteroids. Our members and supporters have delivered hundreds of thousands of petitions to the U.S. Congress and have changed the political fortunes of planetary missions. We have funded groundbreaking technological advancements in solar sailing. We have united researchers from around the world to work together on asteroid defense. Today, we are the world’s largest and most influential independent space-interest organization.

To celebrate The Planetary Society’s 40th anniversary, we’re looking back at some big moments in planetary exploration during our existence along with our own milestones in helping to advance space science and exploration. While we couldn’t possibly list all the amazing accomplishments of the past 4 decades (we know of at least 35 space missions that didn’t get a mention), we tried to include major scientific and cultural milestones—moments likely to be remembered by the general public and achievements relevant to our organizational priorities. Here’s to the next 40 years. There’s so much more to explore.

The 1980s

There was much work to be done after The Planetary Society’s formation. Budget cuts, along with an ill- fated U.S. policy to launch all missions on the Space Shuttle, created what is often referred to by planetary scientists as the "lost decade." No new U.S. planetary missions were launched from 1978 to 1989, and only through sustained appeals from organizations like The Planetary Society did NASA’s planetary program survive.

At a time when U.S. government scientists were barred from working with the Soviet Union, The Planetary Society helped bring the 2 superpowers closer together. By the end of the 1980s, things were starting to look up: the Space Shuttle finally launched the long-delayed Magellan and Galileo missions. Brighter days were ahead.

Society Events

1980

1981

  • The Planetary Society launches its first political action campaign, lobbying for a U.S. mission to Halley’s comet. Supporters send more than 10,000 letters to the White House, which are in turn forwarded to NASA unopened. Future campaigns would be more effective.
  • The Planetary Society holds its first Planetfest celebration for Voyager 2’s flyby of Saturn. Many more Planetfests have since been held for planetary encounters and landings.

1982

  •  Members begin funding Eleanor “Glo” Helin’s near-Earth object research and continue to support her work for more than a decade.
Eleanor "Glo" Helin
Eleanor "Glo" Helin Eleanor "Glo" Helin, seen here at a telescope, conducted near-Earth object research for The Planetary Society for more than a decade starting in 1982. The Planetary Society

1983

1984

  • The Planetary Society begins advocating for international cooperation in planetary exploration and organizes a meeting between U.S. and Soviet scientists in Graz, Austria.

1985

  • Paul Horowitz, Carl Sagan, and Steven Spielberg, along with his son, Max, activate project META, a Society-sponsored, radio-signal-based search for extraterrestrial intelligence at Harvard’s Oak Ridge Observatory.
Flipping the switch
Flipping the switch Paul Horowitz, Carl Sagan and Steven Spielberg (holding his son, Max) activate The Planetary Society’s META project in 1985. The Planetary Society

1987

  • Planetary Society members enable Spacebridge, a televised event bringing together American and Soviet space scientists via satellite to advocate for cooperative human and robotic space exploration of Mars.

1989

  • Planetary Society membership reaches an all-time high of 125,000 members in over 80 nations. It was one of the fastest-growing membership organizations of the decade, thus proving strong citizen interest in space exploration.
  • The Planetary Society celebrates NASA’s Voyager 2 Neptune flyby with Planetfest ’89—a 5-day event in Pasadena, California that attracts more than 15,000 guests. Legendary rock and roller Chuck Berry serenades the spacecraft as it leaves the solar system with a rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” that includes the lyrics “go, Voyager, go!”
Carl Sagan and Chuck Berry
Carl Sagan and Chuck Berry Planetary Society co-founder Carl Sagan presents a medal to legendary rock and roller Chuck Berry at Planetfest '89, a 5-day event in Pasadena, California celebrating Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune. The Planetary Society

Space Events

1980

  • Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez becomes the first Black astronaut in space, launching aboard the Soviet Union’s Soyuz 38 spacecraft.
  • NASA’s Voyager 1 probe flies past Saturn. From there, its trajectory takes it into interstellar space. It is still operating today.
  • Cosmos: A Personal Voyage premieres on PBS.
  • Scientists Walter and Luis Alvarez propose that an asteroid impact caused the extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs.

1981

  • Space Shuttle Columbia launches on the program’s first flight.
  • NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flies past Saturn and continues on to Uranus.

1982

  • The Soviet Union’s Venera 13 lander captures the first color pictures from Venus’ surface.

1983

  • Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space.
  • Guion Bluford becomes the first Black NASA astronaut in space, flying aboard Space Shuttle Challenger.

1986

  • The Soviet Union launches the first piece of the Mir space station.
  • A fleet of international spacecraft fly by Halley’s comet. NASA is not among the participants due to budget cuts and Space Shuttle delays that happened in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Halley's Comet nucleus
Halley's Comet nucleus The European Space Agency’s Giotto spacecraft photographed Halley’s Comet from a distance of just 600 kilometers. Halley Multicolor Camera Team / Giotto Project / ESA
  • Space Shuttle Challenger breaks apart during launch, killing all 7 crew members.
  • NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft makes the first (and to date, only) Uranus flyby and heads on to Neptune.
Uranus and Neptune
Uranus and Neptune Only Voyager 2 has visited the ice giants, Uranus (left) in 1986 and Neptune (right) in 1989. These Voyager portraits are newly reprocessed to show the 2 planets at correct relative size and color. Since Voyager, planetary astronomers have studied the ice giants from Earth and have seen their faces change. NASA / JPL-Caltech / Björn Jónsson

1989

  • NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft makes the first (and to date, only) Neptune flyby. From there, its trajectory takes it into interstellar space. It is still operating today.
  • Space Shuttle Atlantis launches the Magellan spacecraft to Venus.
  • Space Shuttle Atlantis launches the Galileo spacecraft to Jupiter.
Galileo in Atlantis' Payload Bay
Galileo in Atlantis' Payload Bay Astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis prepare to release the Galileo spacecraft on 18 October 1989. After release, Galileo used an attached rocket booster to leave Earth's orbit for Jupiter. NASA

The 1990s

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, NASA’s budget rose again only to decline once more starting in the mid-1990s. In order to maintain a steady pace of planetary exploration missions, the agency introduced its “Faster, Better, Cheaper” approach to mission design. For the first time in 20 years, Mars became a major focus with the start of a systematic, long-term program to understand the Red Planet.

The Planetary Society, which had been advocating for Mars exploration for years, sponsored several related technology-development efforts. Our Mars Balloon was slated to fly on the Soviet Union’s Mars ‘96 mission before the mission was canceled. Society-funded rover tests in Death Valley, California helped pave the way for NASA’s Mars Sojourner rover. Our Mars Microphone flew on NASA’s Mars Polar Lander in 1999, becoming the first crowdfunded science experiment to fly to another planet. Sadly, Polar Lander crashed on the surface.

Society Events

1990

  • Planetary Society members support testing of a Mars Balloon slated to fly on the Soviet Union’s Mars ‘96 mission. Although the mission is canceled, the Mars Balloon effort leads to the Society’s role in helping to develop rover technology.

    1992

    • The Planetary Society sponsors Mars rover tests in California’s Death Valley.

    1995

    • A Society expedition sends members to Belize to search for evidence of the Chixculub asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.
    An expedition to Belize
    An expedition to Belize In 1995, The Planetary Society sent members to Belize to search for evidence of the Chixculub asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. The Planetary Society

    1996

    • Planetary Society cofounder Carl Sagan dies at age 62.
    • NASA’s Pathfinder spacecraft launches to Mars carrying Sojourner, a rover named through a Planetary Society contest. The Pathfinder lander also contains a “microdot” with the names of 100,000 Planetary Society members.

    1997

    • Planetary geologist Gene Shoemaker, an early advocate for near-Earth object sky surveys, dies in a car accident. The Planetary Society establishes the Shoemaker Near-Earth Object Grant program in his honor to fund astronomers who discover and characterize asteroids that might threaten Earth. To date, Society members have funded 62 grants totaling $440,000.

    1999

    • The Mars Microphone, funded entirely by Planetary Society members, launches to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars Polar Lander. The spacecraft crashes on arrival.
    The Mars Microphone
    The Mars Microphone The flight spare of The Planetary Society's Mars Microphone, which flew to Mars aboard Mars Polar Lander. © Robin Weiner, Associated Press
    • Seed funding from The Planetary Society helps launch [email protected], a global program allowing anyone to donate spare computer power to the search for radio signals from intelligent life. Millions of people would participate in the program until its end in 2020.

    Space Events

    1990

    • Before permanently powering down its cameras, Voyager 1 turns around and takes a portrait of our solar system, capturing Earth as a pale blue dot scattered in sunlight. Carl Sagan’s moving description of the image becomes forever associated with it.
    • Space Shuttle Discovery launches the Hubble Space Telescope. Early images show that the mirror is out of alignment and that a corrective optics package will need to be installed.
    • Japan launches its first lunar mission, Hiten.
    • NASA’s Magellan spacecraft arrives at Venus to map the surface with radar, revealing the first detailed global look beneath the planet’s clouds.

    1992

    • Mae Jemison becomes the first Black woman to travel in space.
    Mae Jemison In Space
    Mae Jemison In Space Mae Jemison poses for a picture during her 1992 flight aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour. NASA

    1993

    • Contact is lost with NASA’s Mars Observer spacecraft just before arrival, facilitating the formation of the agency’s Mars Exploration program. Decades of successful Mars exploration occur as a result.
    • Astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

    1994

    • Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slams into Jupiter, marking the first time humans have watched an object strike another world. The incident provides a sobering reminder that such objects can similarly impact Earth.

    1995

    • NASA’s Galileo spacecraft arrives at Jupiter.
    • Scientists confirm the first existence of an exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star.
    • A new era of U.S. and Russian space cooperation begins with the Shuttle-Mir program, for which Russians ride on the Space Shuttle, and the shuttle begins visiting Mir. The program paves the way for the International Space Station.
    • Russian Valeri Polyakov sets the record for the longest single trip in space: 438 days.

    1997

    • NASA’s Pathfinder spacecraft lands on Mars and successfully deploys the Sojourner rover. It is the first successful U.S. Mars mission in 21 years. NASA names the landing site the Carl Sagan Memorial Station.
    The Sojourner rover at rock "Yogi"
    The Sojourner rover at rock "Yogi" NASA / JPL-Caltech
    • NASA’s Cassini spacecraft launches to Saturn.

    1998

    • Russia launches the first module of the International Space Station, Zarya.

    1999

    • Eileen Collins becomes the first woman to command a Space Shuttle flight.
    • The 1900s end with Space Shuttle Discovery landing on 28 December 1999, allowing NASA to power off all Space Shuttles before New Year’s Eve in case of Y2K software glitches.

    The 2000s

    The new millennium began with a strong outlook for planetary exploration. Although NASA launched no new high-cost flagship missions, more than 10 spacecraft began journeys to other worlds. Half were Mars-bound. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers, named through a contest implemented by The Planetary Society, would far exceed their design lifetimes on Mars, while New Horizons, the product of a new midcost NASA mission program, blasted off for Pluto. The Planetary Society fought tirelessly to get a Pluto mission to the launch pad.

    The Society’s Red Rover Goes to Mars program sent 16 students to JPL to work in mission operations for Spirit and Opportunity, while our Visions of Mars project sent a DVD library to Mars aboard NASA’s Phoenix lander in 2007. It remains there, waiting for retrieval by future astronauts. We also attempted a space mission of our own in 2005; Cosmos 1 would have been the world’s first solar sail spacecraft had the Russian rocket carrying it not failed. The loss of Cosmos 1 led to LightSail, a pair of crowdfunded spacecraft that would demonstrate the power of solar sailing for small, standardized satellites called CubeSats.

    Society Events

    2002

    • Planetary Radio, the Society’s weekly radio show hosted by Mat Kaplan, premieres. Episodes from the show’s entire history can be found on our website.
    Mat Kaplan and Bill Nye
    Mat Kaplan and Bill Nye Onstage for Planetary Radio Live. The Planetary Society

    2004

    • The Society provides outreach for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission by teaming with LEGO to create the Red Rover Goes to Mars program. Among other accomplishments, the program sends students to work on rover missions at JPL. One student, Abigail Fraeman, ends up becoming the deputy project scientist for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.
    • The NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) Cassini-Huygens mission arrives at Saturn, bearing a CD containing handwritten signatures of Planetary Society members and supporters.
    Sofi Collis and Bruce Betts
    Sofi Collis and Bruce Betts Nine-year-old Sofi Collis, left, poses with The Planetary Society's Bruce Betts, right, in 2003 after winning a Society and LEGO-sponsored contest to name NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The Planetary Society

    2005

    2006

    • In partnership with Harvard University, The Planetary Society sponsors a new telescope dedicated to an optical SETI search, looking for light signals from intelligent beings.

    2007

    • NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft lands on Mars with our archival disc containing names of Planetary Society members and supporters, a library of fiction and nonfiction books, artwork, and essays about Mars.
    Visions of Mars, on Mars
    Visions of Mars, on Mars This image shows the DVD provided by The Planetary Society to the Phoenix mission, which contains 250,000 names of people who signed up to send their names to Mars. It also contains "Visions of Mars," messages to future Martian explorers, science fiction stories and art inspired by the Red Planet. The DVD is mounted on the deck of the lander, which sits about one meter above the Martian surface, visible in the background. NASA / JPL / U. Arizona

    2009

    Space Events

    2000

    • Expedition 1, the first long-duration mission to the International Space Station, begins with a joint Russian-American crew. The station has been occupied continuously ever since.
    ISS configuration for Expedition 1, 2000
    ISS configuration for Expedition 1, 2000 NASA

    2001

    • NASA’s NEAR spacecraft lands on asteroid Eros.

    2003

    • China performs its first human spaceflight as Yang Liwei reaches orbit aboard Shenzhou 5.
    • Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates during atmospheric reentry, killing all 7 crew members.

    2004

    • NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers land successfully on Mars. They far exceed their 90-day design lifetimes; Spirit’s mission formally ends in 2010, while Opportunity’s ends in 2019.
    • ESA sends its first spacecraft, SMART-1, to lunar orbit.
    • ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft launches to comet 67P/Churyumov– Gerasimenko.
    • SpaceShipOne becomes the first private vehicle to carry humans beyond the boundary of space.
    • The joint NASA-ESA Cassini- Huygens mission arrives at Saturn.

    2005

    • After separating from Cassini, Huygens lands on Saturn’s moon Titan and captures the first images from the surface.
    Huygens view of Titan's surface (colorized)
    Huygens view of Titan's surface (colorized) Huygens returned this photo after landing on Titan on January 14, 2005. It has been colorized based upon spectral data. The round objects in this image are pebbles and cobbles composed of ice. The surface is darker than originally expected, consisting of a mixture of water and hydrocarbon ice. There is also evidence of erosion at the base of these objects, indicating possible fluvial activity. NASA / JPL / ESA / UA
    • NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft hurls an impactor into comet Tempel 1, ejecting a plume of ice and dust that allows scientists to peer beneath the surface of a comet.

    2006

    • NASA’s Stardust mission returns particles from the coma of a comet to Earth. Both the spacecraft and the return capsule contain the names of Planetary Society members.
    • NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft launches to Pluto with a CD of 430,000 names that includes a Planetary Society member roster.
    New Horizons launches
    New Horizons launches An Atlas V rocket lifts the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft off the launch pad on Jan. 19, 2006. NIKON / Scott Andrews / NASA

    2007

    • Chang’e-1 becomes China’s first planetary mission beyond Earth orbit.

    2008

    • India’s first planetary mission, Chandrayaan-1, arrives in lunar orbit.

    2009

    • NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launches to the Moon to collect detailed high-resolution surface images. Its rocket stage and a second spacecraft are intentionally smashed into the Moon, creating a debris plume that allows scientists to look for water.

    The 2010s

    The 2010s began with a changing of the guard as cofounder Lou Friedman retired and was succeeded by CEO Bill Nye, The Science Guy—a Society charter member who was inspired by Carl Sagan when he took one of Sagan’s astronomy classes at Cornell University. In 2015, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 1 spacecraft successfully tested its solar sail deployment mechanism in space. Four years later, LightSail 2 launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and used sunlight alone to change its orbit, demonstrating the feasibility of controlled solar sailing for small spacecraft.

    Hastened by the economic crisis of 2008, the 2010s would see NASA’s budget bottom out at lows not seen since shortly after The Planetary Society’s founding. We undertook multiple advocacy campaigns to keep NASA’s planetary exploration program from stalling, including years of advocacy that helped get NASA’s Europa Clipper mission approved in 2015. By the end of the decade, NASA and planetary exploration budgets were once again on the rise.

    Society Events

    2010

    2011

    • A Planetary Society experiment called LIFE is sent to space and back during Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last flight. LIFE, the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment, tested the idea that a living organism might survive a journey through space to Earth inside a meteorite.
    Shuttle LIFE Experiment with Astronauts
    Shuttle LIFE Experiment with Astronauts Astronauts in the mid-deck of Endeavour during the STS-134 mission. The Shuttle LIFE experiment is in the rectangular experiment block floating in the middle of the picture. NASA

    2012

    • Planetary Society funding helps scientists figure out why Pioneer 10 and 11 are slowing down slightly as they head out of the solar system—a phenomenon known as the Pioneer Anomaly.

    2013

    • Planetary Society cofounder Bruce Murray dies at the age of 81.

    2014

    • Funding begins for Exoplanets Laser, a cutting-edge calibration system used by telescopes searching for Earth-sized planets around other stars.
    • The Planetary Society announces 2 launches for its LightSail program: one in 2015 and another scheduled for 2016.

    2015

    2017

    • The Society helps form the Planetary Science Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. congressional members who advocate for NASA’s planetary exploration work.

    2018

    • Testing for Honeybee Robotics’ PlanetVac, a Society-sponsored sample collection technology, occurs in California’s Mojave Desert aboard a Masten Xodiac rocket. NASA has since selected PlanetVac for inclusion on a future lunar mission.
    PlanetVac (Xodiac configuration)
    PlanetVac (Xodiac configuration) Honeybee Robotics

    2019

    Space Events

    2011

    • Space Shuttle Atlantis flies the program’s final mission. No crewed orbital vehicles would launch from the U.S. until 2020—the longest such gap in history.
    • NASA’s MESSENGER probe becomes the first spacecraft to enter orbit at Mercury.
    • NASA’s Dawn spacecraft becomes the first orbiter of a main-belt asteroid.

    2012

    • NASA’s Curiosity spacecraft lands on Mars using a new entry, descent, and landing sequence that includes a rocket-powered “skycrane” that lowers the rover to the ground via nylon cables.
    • Liu Yang becomes the first Chinese woman to fly in space, launching aboard Shenzhou 9.

    2013

    • NASA reactivates its WISE spacecraft as NEOWISE and gives it a new mission to detect, track, and characterize moving solar system objects, including potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroids.

    2014

    • Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo spaceplane breaks apart over California’s Mojave Desert, killing one crew member and injuring the second.
    • India’s first Mars mission, Mangalyaan, arrives safely in orbit.
    • ESA’s Rosetta probe becomes the first spacecraft to orbit a comet. Its lander, Philae, unintentionally bounces upon impact and is later found resting in a crevice.
    Comet Silhouette
    Comet Silhouette ESA’s Rosetta mission accompanied comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in its orbit around the Sun from August 2014 until its landing on the comet in September 2016. The comet was most active just after perihelion in August and September 2015, its jets carrying streams of primordial dust into space. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA/Jacint Roger Pérez/Emily Lakdawalla

    2015

    True Colors of Pluto
    True Colors of Pluto This is the most accurate natural color image of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. The diversity of geologic landforms on Pluto’s surface rivals that of Mars. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker
    • Russia’s Gennady Padalka sets the record for the most cumulative time in space at 879 days, accumulating the time during 5 different stays on Mir and the ISS.

    2016

    2017

    • NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson sets the record for the most cumulative time in space—more than 665 days—by an American and by a woman. She racks up the time during 3 stays on the ISS, and during one, she is its first woman commander.

    2019

    • Israel and India attempt robotic lunar landings, but both spacecraft crash during their final descents to the surface.
    • China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft and Yutu-2 rover complete the first landing on the far side of the Moon.
    • NASA formally establishes a planetary defense program within its planetary science division. The program supports both ground-based near-Earth object detections and missions to test deflection and detection capabilities.

    The 2020s

    The Planetary Society began the 2020s with an operational spacecraft in orbit. To celebrate LightSail 2’s first year in space, we announced an extended mission dedicated to further advancing solar sail technologies. The mission team will continue tuning the spacecraft’s performance, will investigate using the solar sail to intentionally generate drag, and will share mission results with the public. Soon, we will begin to accept proposals on our next crowdfunded sci-tech project.

    The 2020s have the potential to be one of the most exciting decades ever for planetary exploration. NASA’s Perseverance rover will directly search for signs of past life on Mars, something the agency has not done since the 1970s Viking missions. NASA’s Europa Clipper and ESA’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) missions will explore the habitability of Jupiter’s icy moons. NASA and its international partners are planning to return humans to the Moon.

    The Planetary Society’s latest strategic framework sets ambitious new goals to advance space science and exploration and truly make space for everyone, but our core vision as spelled out by Lou Friedman, Bruce Murray, and Carl Sagan 40 years ago has not changed. We will explore new worlds, search for life, and defend our planet from asteroids. Let’s go!

    LightSail 2 Orbital Sunrise
    LightSail 2 Orbital Sunrise The Sun rises over the horizon in this image from LightSail 2 captured on 28 September 2019. The sail appears curved due to the spacecraft's 185-degree fisheye camera lens. The image has been color corrected and some of the distortion has been removed. The Planetary Society

    Space Events

    2020

      2021

      • A fleet of spacecraft launched by the United States, China, and the United Arab Emirates arrive at Mars.
      • China launches the first module of its new Tianhe space station.
      • NASA’s first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launches, sending the Orion crew capsule to lunar orbit and back. SLS and Orion are cornerstones of the agency’s Artemis moon-landing program. One of the mission’s secondary payloads is NEA Scout, a solar-sail-propelled spacecraft that will visit a nearby asteroid.
      • NASA launches the James Webb Space Telescope, a multipurpose observatory that will, among other things, scan the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars.
      • NASA’s Lucy mission launches on a 12-year journey to visit 8 asteroids.

      2022

      • ESA’s JUICE spacecraft launches to Jupiter.
      • NASA launches Psyche, a mission to a metal asteroid believed to be the exposed core of a protoplanet.
      • ESA’s ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover launches to Mars.

      2023

      • OSIRIS-REx returns to Earth carrying samples of asteroid Bennu.

      2024

      • Japan’s MMX (Martian Moons Exploration) spacecraft launches to survey Mars’ moons and to collect a sample from Phobos.
      • NASA launches the Europa Clipper mission in the mid-2020s. The exact date depends on which launch vehicle the agency selects.
      • NASA lands the first woman and next man on the Moon under a 2019 directive from the Trump administration. The highly aspirational date is likely to slip.

      2026

      • NASA and ESA launch 2 missions to Mars to retrieve the samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover for return to Earth.

      Your Guide to Mars Sample Return

      Despite advances in space technology, certain science questions, including whether or not a Mars rock contains signs of ancient life, can only be answered in Earth-based laboratories.

      Mars Sample Return Infographic
      Mars Sample Return Infographic This infographic shows NASA and the European Space Agency's general plans for returning samples from Mars. The Planetary Society
      • Psyche arrives at its same-named metal asteroid, Psyche.
      • NASA’s Dragonfly spacecraft launches on a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan. The flying motorcraft will land in 2034.
      Dragonfly flying above Titan
      Dragonfly flying above Titan NASA's Dragonfly spacecraft flies between waypoints on Titan. JHUAPL

      2029

      • JUICE arrives at Jupiter to begin a 3-year survey of Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa.

      The Planetary Report • September Equinox

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