The DownlinkDec 09, 2022

Out-of-this-world astronauts (literally)

Space Snapshot

Apollo 17 crew

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 17, the last mission of the Apollo program. Pictured above is the crew of Apollo 17. In back, from left: Harrison Schmitt, Lunar Module pilot and the first and only professional scientist to walk on the Moon; Ron Evans, Command Module pilot and one of 12 people who have flown to the Moon without landing on it; and Commander Gene Cernan, the last person to walk on the Moon. Image: NASA

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Fact Worth Sharing

Moon illustration

No humans have set foot upon the Moon since Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan boarded the Lunar Module to come home nearly 50 years ago on Dec. 14, 1972.

Mission Briefings

Moon crescent earth orion spacecraft

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on its way back to Earth from the Moon. This week the spacecraft completed a “return burn,” whizzing about 127 kilometers (79 miles) above the lunar surface before harnessing the Moon’s gravity and accelerating back to Earth. It is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California on Dec. 11.

small bodies

NEO Surveyor is a go! The asteroid-hunting space telescope will launch in 2028. NASA made a formal cost and schedule commitment to launch within the next five years at a cost of $1.2 billion. This is a major turn in fortunes for this project, which has suffered from NASA-directed cuts. Launching NEO Surveyor is a major advocacy priority for The Planetary Society to ensure humanity is prepared for the next threat from a near-Earth object.


A megatsunami may have swept over portions of Mars after a massive asteroid hit the red planet. Using images and data from various spacecraft, a new study suggests that a wave nearly 80 stories tall may have been created by an ancient oceanic impact on Mars by a 10-kilometer-wide (6-mile-wide) impactor, similar in size to the one that caused the mass extinction of dinosaurs here on Earth.


Who’s got perseverance? Perhaps it’s a student you know. NASA’s "You've Got Perseverance!" opportunity is for students who have demonstrated perseverance in their academic pursuits. Teachers, educators, and community leaders are encouraged to nominate students. Selected students will receive a special message sent directly from the Perseverance rover on Mars!

From The Planetary Society

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Astronaut and Planetary Society board member John Grunsfeld didn’t just ride the Space Shuttle into orbit five times. He accumulated two-and-a-half days of spacewalk time as he worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, famously becoming the “Hubble Repairman.” This week he returns to Planetary Radio for a very personal conversation with Mat Kaplan. Image: NASA

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Why did the United States send humans to the Moon — and why did the nation pull back after landing only six times? We break it all down for you in A Political History of Apollo, a special edition podcast series. Host Casey Dreier, our chief advocate and senior space policy adviser, engages some of the world's leading space experts and goes beyond flags and footprints to uncover the politics behind the defining program of the space age.

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ICYMI: The Best of 2022 results are in! More than 3,000 votes were cast this year, with stunning images by JWST, the impact of Dimporphos by the DART mission, and our own LightSail 2 taking top places. Be sure to check out all the Best of 2022 winners and see if your picks made the cut.

What's Up

Meteors illustration

The Geminid meteor shower peaks overnight Dec. 13-14, with increased activity several days before and after. The Geminids are usually the best shower of the year with 100+ meteors per hour from a dark site, but a gibbous Moon will wash out dimmer meteors this year. Mars continues to shine brilliantly bright and red in the evening east. See the rest of the month’s cosmic sights on our Night Sky page.

Wow of the Week

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After breaking the record for the most time spent on the surface of the Moon (75 hours), the astronauts of Apollo 17 headed home. Command Module Pilot Ron Evans had one more adventure up his sleeve: to perform a spacewalk in an environment like no other — the void between the Moon and Earth — to retrieve film cassettes. Image: NASA

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We love to feature space artwork in the Downlink. If you create any kind of space-related art, we invite you to send it to us by replying to any Downlink email or writing to [email protected]. Please let us know in your email if you’re a Planetary Society member!