The Planetary Report

December Solstice 2023

From Our Member Magazine

Your impact: December solstice 2023

Space advocacy back in action

In September, The Planetary Society’s Day of Action returned to its usual in-person format after having gone virtual throughout the pandemic. More than 100 Planetary Society members took part, traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with their representatives in Congress and speak about the importance of investing in NASA’s space exploration programs. This year, we focused on the VERITAS mission to Venus, Mars Sample Return, and NEO Surveyor.

Planetary Society members at the 2023 Day of Action
Planetary Society members at the 2023 Day of Action Image: The Planetary Society

Bennu is here!

OSIRIS-REx completed its mission in September, bringing samples from the asteroid Bennu back to Earth for labs to study. The Planetary Society has been deeply involved in this mission since its very beginnings, including running the public contest to name Bennu. Mike Puzio, who was 9 years old at the time he won the contest in 2013, explained why he chose that name: “Bennu was a large heron and the living symbol of Osiris. The winged OSIRIS-REx and its heronlike TAGSAM also evoke attributes of Bennu, as does the egg shape of the asteroid itself. Bennu means ‘the ascending one’ and ‘to shine’ and suits the near-Earth object that will shine in our skies in 2023 at the return of OSIRISREx.”

Mike, now 19 and pursuing an engineering degree at North Carolina State University, helped the U.S. Postal Service unveil a new OSIRIS-REx stamp as part of the sample drop celebrations this September. Mike’s connection to Bennu and OSIRIS-REx is a great representation of the way The Planetary Society works to help people find their place in space. Read his story at

Mike and Larry Puzio
Mike and Larry Puzio Mike (left) and Larry (right) attending the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction in May 2023.Image: Mike Puzio

Farewell to a friend: A special send-off from Planetary Society co-founder Louis Friedman

The Planetary Society’s very good friend and invaluable colleague, Jim Burke, died this year at the age of 97. Jim was more than a polymath. He not only knew a lot about a lot but he did a lot with a lot: physics, math, biology, engineering and then sailing, piloting, inventing, mentoring, and so much more.

Jim began volunteering for The Planetary Society while he was still working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he was the first manager of America’s first planetary mission: the Ranger spacecraft that went to the Moon. He helped us start The Planetary Report as our technical editor, working with our founding editor Charlene Anderson to create not just a beautiful magazine but a scientifically accurate one.

For our pioneering work on a Mars Balloon, he invented the “snake,” a guiderope that served as ballast and was designed to carry instruments to study the Martian surface. With Society co-founder Bruce Murray, students at Caltech, and other colleagues, he developed the idea. He then helped the Society organize a number of international tests for the system — our first major project. Eventually, the snake made it to a spaceflight program — not at NASA but with the French and Russian space agencies. Jim’s project work continued as he became a principal in our Mars rover test program, and that success led to rovers being used by NASA to explore the red planet. Longtime members may remember pictures of Jim in Death Valley during our Mars rover tests.

After retiring from JPL, he went on to a third career mentoring and teaching at the International Space University. Scores of students now working in industry and the commercial sector are pursuing Jim’s dream of returning to the Moon to explore. He was always a lunar advocate, pursuing the possibilities of what we could learn there and how to utilize what we learned.

There was much more to Jim’s remarkable life than merely the three careers mentioned here — JPL, TPS, ISU — but they are the ones I shared with him. He was a good friend to me and to countless others. And he was the most positive man I ever met — he never said it couldn’t be done.

Louis Friedman,
Co-Founder and Executive Director Emeritus
The Planetary Society

Jim Burke
Jim Burke Longtime Planetary Society supporter Jim Burke at the International Space University.Image: ISU

Celebrating space with the world

As we do every year, The Planetary Society partnered with World Space Week and International Observe the Moon Night in October to support activities that engage people around the planet in the celebration of all things space. From virtual and in-person events to videos and educational content, these two international events help share the wonders of the Cosmos with new people and give existing space fans a great way to fuel their passion.

Want to hear more about your impact as a member?

Check out our annual impact report on the web, available now at

Give the gift of space

Looking for some last-minute gift ideas for the space enthusiast in your life? We’ve got you covered with our annual guide to space-themed gifts. See this year’s picks at

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The Planetary Report • December Solstice

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