The DownlinkJul 16, 2021

Remembering Missions And Anticipating Those To Come

Space Snapshot

Viking first mars image

July 20 will mark the 45th anniversary of this image, the first close-up ever taken of the Martian surface. It was taken by NASA’s Viking 1 lander, one of two pairs of orbiters and landers that reached the Red Planet in 1976. The science they conducted and the images they sent back revolutionized our understanding of Mars and set the stage for many decades of exploration. Image credit: NASA.

You love space, now take action

This weekly newsletter is your toolkit to learn more about space, share information with your friends and family, and take direct action to support exploration. Anyone can subscribe at to receive it as a weekly email.

Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

Doing something for the first time is always a challenge. That’s why NASA’s Viking missions to Mars were the most expensive robotic planetary science mission of all time. The cost was equivalent to about $7.1 billion in 2021 dollars.

Mission Briefings

Hubble deployed

NASA is still trying to get Hubble back up and running. The agency says it finished conducting a formal review of the telescope’s operations; next it will attempt to switch Hubble to its backup hardware, which could happen later this week. This has been an ongoing issue since June, when Hubble’s payload computer suddenly stopped working. Pictured: Hubble being deployed from the space shuttle Discovery in 1990. Image credit: NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Lockheed Corporation.

Solar System

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) found four “teenage” exoplanets about 130 light-years away. The age of these planets is actually pretty special — not much is known about the transitional period of time in an exoplanet’s life, so the discovery will offer scientists a unique learning opportunity.


This week Virgin Galactic kicked off the first of two back-to-back space tourist flights. Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle will lift off July 20. Though Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have similar overarching ambitions, there are some stark differences in their approaches to spaceflight. Read our handy overview of the two companies’ space tourism programs.


The U.S. House of Representatives proposed spending $25 billion on NASA next year. This is nearly a quarter-billion more than requested by the Biden Administration. The additional money would fund the NEO Surveyor asteroid-hunting telescope, Mars Sample Return, and an upgraded configuration of the Space Launch System rocket. It also rejects the proposed cancellation of NASA’s SOFIA telescope and nuclear thermal propulsion program. Next stop: the Senate. See our FY 2022 NASA Budget tracking page for more details.

From The Planetary Society

Dragonfly artists concept
Planetary Society logo bullet

If you thought Ingenuity was cool, just wait until you see Dragonfly. The much more advanced flying spacecraft (pictured in this artist’s concept) will study Saturn’s moon Titan, a freezing world with strange similarities to Earth. Titan is the only other world in our solar system with liquid lakes, rivers, and oceans on its surface, but with average temperatures of -179 degrees Celsius (-290 degrees Fahrenheit), these bodies are filled with liquid methane and ethane instead of water. You’ll have to wait awhile to discover this fascinating world, though; the dual-quadcopter Dragonfly won’t arrive at Titan until 2037. Image credit: Johns Hopkins APL.

Planetary Society logo bullet

What do we know about Venus, the cloud-shrouded planet next door? With the possibility of life high in the Venusian clouds being hotly debated, there are many questions yet to be answered. Two new NASA missions are heading there in the coming decade to find some answers. VERITAS and DAVINCI principal investigators return to Planetary Radio this week for a celebration of the recent mission selection announcement and a deep dive into their spacecraft and the mysteries of Earth’s broiling-hot sister world.

Planetary Society logo bullet

The Planetary Society has been selected as one of 19 organizations to receive a $1 million grant from Club for the Future. The education-focused nonprofit founded by Blue Origin aims to inspire the next generation of space explorers. This grant will help The Planetary Society in our mission to increase public involvement in advancing planetary exploration, searching for life beyond earth, and defending Earth from dangerous asteroids and comets.

What's Up

Jupiter illustration

Venus shines bright in the western sky shortly after sunset. Mars is below, nearby and much dimmer. At around midnight look for bright Jupiter with yellowish Saturn to its upper-right. Learn more at

Remembering Your Favorite Missions

Chopshop spacecraft posters

Our partners at ChopShop are setting out to design a new series of posters celebrating iconic space missions, and want to hear from you! Fill out this quick survey to vote for the past and present missions that you’d most like to see on a poster, and check out their existing collection today.

Wow of the Week

Sagan viking

As we celebrate the anniversary of Viking 1’s first photo of Mars, we can’t help thinking fondly of the time our co-founder, Carl Sagan, posed with a model of the spacecraft in the California desert. Sagan helped design and manage these early missions to Mars, and helped ensure that they weren’t the last. Because the Viking program was so expensive, policymakers wanted to slash further spending on space. But Sagan, along with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Bruce Murray and JPL engineer Louis Friedman, founded The Planetary Society to show that space science and exploration mattered to the public. Ever since, we’ve kept science at the forefront of our mission to keep exploring the cosmos for the benefit of all humankind.