The Planetary Report

March Equinox 2021

From Our Member Magazine

Your Impact: March Equinox 2021

Best of 2020 Awards

In November, members celebrated the end of 2020 by voting for their favorite space moments in our Best of 2020 Awards. These are our community’s picks.

Best Comet NEOWISE Image

Comet NEOWISE aligned to the stars
Comet NEOWISE aligned to the stars This image of comet NEOWISE was taken with a 15-minute exposure and aligned to the background stars.Image: SimgDe

Best Solar System Image

Juno view of Jupiter, September 2020
Juno view of Jupiter, September 2020 NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this view of Jupiter’s swirling clouds during its 29th close pass over the giant planet.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

Best LightSail 2 Photo of Earth

LightSail 2 image of southeast Africa
LightSail 2 image of southeast Africa This image taken by The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft on 7 September 2020 shows Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, and the southern portion of Madagascar across the Mozambique channel. At the lower right, you can see a piece of material similar to fishing line, called Spectraline, that held the spacecraft’s solar panels closed prior to sail deployment.Image: The Planetary Society

Best Human Spaceflight Image

SpaceX Crew-1 crew members
SpaceX Crew-1 crew members The second crew to fly aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle poses prior to its scheduled October 2020 mission to the International Space Station. From left to right: mission specialist Shannon Walker, pilot Victor Glover, Crew Dragon commander Mike Hopkins, and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi.Image: SpaceX

Most Exciting Moment in Planetary Science

In October, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully collected and stowed a sample from asteroid Bennu. The probe is scheduled to depart Bennu this year and return the sample to Earth in September 2023. Researchers will study the sample to learn about the conditions of the early solar system.

Best Accomplishment by Planetary Society Members

LightSail 2 completing its primary mission to demonstrate controlled solar sailing for cubesats

Favorite Planetary Science Mission

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return spacecraft

Most Exciting Upcoming Mission

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

Planetfest ’21

As this issue of The Planetary Report goes to press, we are just wrapping up Planetfest ’21, a festival celebrating the arrivals of 3 spacecraft to the planet Mars: Hope, Tianwen-1, and Perseverance. People from around the world joined the festivities, participating in an array of educational and celebratory activities. We were joined by JPL chief engineer Rob Manning, author Andy Weir, astronaut Jessica Watkins, Star Trek actor Kate Mulgrew, and many others. We also hosted a live broadcast of the Perseverance rover’s landing with live captioning in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, and Arabic. We’re grateful to all who participated, and if you missed it, we invite you to check out for recordings of the events.

Beyond the Horizon

During Planetfest ’21, members joined CEO Bill Nye for our first-ever virtual fundraising gala. In addition to being a memorable evening of storytelling about the Society’s work, members raised a remarkable $27,700 in less than an hour. Finally, we announced a new comprehensive campaign, Beyond the Horizon: Creating Space for Everyone, that will provide $40 million to fuel our efforts. With $16 million committed to-date thanks to our members and lead donor Taner Halicioglu’s $9 million gift, we are in a great position to meet or exceed our goal by the close of our campaign in December 2024.

Advocating for Space in Washington, D.C.

As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, The Planetary Society is committed to working with every U.S. presidential administration to advance our core enterprises: planetary exploration, the search for life, and planetary defense. As President Biden’s administration gets to work, we’re making sure that they know what needs to be done to advance these important endeavors. In February, we shared a video of Bill Nye delivering an open letter to President Biden stating the position of The Planetary Society and the 50,000 members we represent, urging Biden to invest in space science and exploration. We’re looking forward to working together with Biden and his team to make the next 4 years as productive as possible toward the goal of knowing the cosmos and our place within it.

A Legacy of Sci-Tech Success
A Legacy of Sci-Tech Success Planetary Society members and donors have supported innovative science and technology projects since our 1980 founding. Top row from left: The Pioneer Anomaly, Shuttle LIFE (2 images), PlanetVac. Middle row from left: Shoemaker NEO Grants, LightSail, META, Mars microphone. Bottom row from left: Shoemaker NEO Grants, Exoplanets research, Planetary Deep Drill, Cosmos 1.Image: The Planetary Society

A Big STEP Forward

In February, we announced an exciting new chapter of our science and technology program: The Planetary Society’s Science and Technology Empowered by the Public (STEP) grants. Building on the success of our crowdfunded LightSail mission, the STEP grant program will invest in innovative projects selected internationally through an open, competitive proposal process occurring every 2 years. We’re calling on the brightest minds from around the world to find the next exciting developments in space science and technology, which we’ll support with the help of members like you. Go to to learn more.

Bringing Bennu Home

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will soon be on its way back to Earth from asteroid Bennu, bringing a sample back to Earth. This little piece of asteroid will yield decades of research, providing new insights about the early solar system. This mission means a lot to The Planetary Society and its members. Many of your names are aboard the spacecraft thanks to a campaign we ran in October 2014 to send a total of 442,803 names aboard the spacecraft on a microchip. The Planetary Society also held a contest to choose a name for the asteroid, which had been called 1999 RQ36. In 2013, along with the University of Arizona and MIT, we engaged more than 8,000 students from dozens of countries around the world and ultimately selected the name “Bennu” at the suggestion of 9-year- old Mike Puzio of North Carolina, USA.

Outstanding Support

Our year-end fundraising campaign was a huge success thanks to support from our members. We raised over $325,000 to facilitate our work throughout 2021 and beyond. We’re very grateful for the outstanding support that members like you provided. Thank you!

From the Archives: Postcards From Venus

Because we’re celebrating Venus in this issue, we took a look back at a very special project from The Planetary Society’s history that invited people from around the world to turn their imagination toward our neighboring planet. In 2005 and 2006 during the lead-up to the European Space Agency (ESA) Venus Express mission’s arrival at Venus, we teamed up with ESA to invite youths and adults worldwide to creatively depict the surface of Venus from an above-ground perspective, giving their artistic take on the mysterious world. We received hundreds of entries from more than 40 nations around the world and selected one youth winner, one adult winner, and one grand-prize winner. We thought you would enjoy looking back at the winning artwork, which still captures the mystery and allure of Venus.

Ominous Beauty
Ominous Beauty Grand-prize winner: Ominous Beauty by Tatianna Cwick, age 17, from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA. “The title of my artwork is Ominous Beauty,” said Cwick. “I think this captures the essence of the planet Venus, with its threatening volcanic environment and unique splendor.” Cwick won a trip to witness the spacecraft’s arrival at Venus from mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.Image: Tatianna Cwick
Hello Venus! Hello Alien!
Hello Venus! Hello Alien! First-place winner (youth): Hello Venus! Hello Alien! by Yoo- Hong Sun, age 9, of South Korea.Image: Yoo-Hong Sun
Venus Burning
Venus Burning First-place winner (adult): Venus Burning by Alejandra Gonzalez Quintana of Spain.Image: Alejandra Gonzalez Quintana

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The Planetary Report • March Equinox

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