Kate HowellsDec 01, 2021

The Best of 2021

With over 3,000 votes cast, the results are in for the Best of 2021. Here are the missions, images, and exploration highlights that you chose as your favorites from the past year.

Best solar system image

What an honor to have an image taken The Planetary Society's own LightSail 2 spacecraft chosen as the best image of 2021. This photo shows the solar sail in the foreground, with French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, and the Atlantic Ocean visible in the background. 

LightSail 2 image of central northern South America
LightSail 2 image of central northern South America LightSail 2 image showing French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, and the Atlantic Ocean. The shadow of the spacecraft can be seen on the right side of the sail. The shadow closest to the center of the sail is caused by a linear wrinkle in the sail. North is approximately at top. This image has been color-adjusted and some distortion from the camera’s 180-degree fisheye lens has been removed.Image: The Planetary Society

Most exciting planetary science moment

2021 was quite a year for space exploration firsts, but the one that voters loved best was the Ingenuity Mars helicopter's first flight. On April 19th the little spacecraft took its first leap off the Martian surface, becoming the first aircraft to complete a powered, controlled flight on another planet. 

Ingenuity's first image from the air
Ingenuity's first image from the air NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this shot, capturing its own shadow, while hovering over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet. It used its navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Best Perseverance landing photo

The drama and excitement of NASA's Perseverance rover landing on Mars captivated people around the world on Feb. 18, 2021. The photo that our audiences loved the most: this view of the rover descending on cables towards the surface of Mars, from the perspective of its thruster-powered skycrane.

Perseverance Rover before touchdown
Perseverance Rover before touchdown NASA's Perseverance Rover descends on cables towards the surface of Mars in this image captured by its thruster-powered skycrane.Image: NASA/JPL

Favorite active planetary science mission this year

In a landslide victory, NASA's Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter it deployed were together voted the mission of the year. 

Perseverance, NASA's newest Mars rover

NASA's Perseverance rover is searching for past life on Mars and collecting samples for future return to Earth.

Best human spaceflight image

With new frontiers of human spaceflight opening this year, we saw several unconventional astronauts take flight. Voters chose this image as their favorite. It shows physician and civilian astronaut Hayley Arceneaux in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. She holds a photo of herself several years ago, at which time she was undergoing cancer treatments.

Hayley Arceneaux in space
Hayley Arceneaux in space This photo shows Hayley Arceneaux smiling as she floats in front of a spacecraft window with the Earth and the blackness of space in the background. Her hair floats around her. She holds a photo of herself several years ago, at which time she was undergoing cancer treatments.Image: Inspiration4/Hayley Arceneaux

Most exciting upcoming mission

For the second year in a row, voters chose NASA's upcoming JWST mission as the most exciting upcoming mission. Fingers crossed that it manages to launch before 2021 is over!

James Webb Space Telescope, the world's new great space observatory

JWST is observing galaxies that formed just after the Big Bang and determining whether planets orbiting other stars could support life.

Best space meme this year

We love a good space meme, and this one made voters laugh the most. 

Venus, why are you like this?!
Venus, why are you like this?!

The best thing that The Planetary Society accomplished with the support of our members

There's a lot we're proud of this year, and voters shared the sentiment about hearing the first sounds from Mars recorded by a microphone on the Perseverance rover. Hearing what Mars sounds like is something that Planetary Society members and have advocated for over many decades

Mars Microphones

NASA's Perseverance sent home audio from Mars in 2021, fulfilling a 25-year Planetary Society effort that included a crowdfunded microphone sent to the Red Planet in 1999.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s vote. We’re excited to see what 2022 will bring!

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