The DownlinkJun 18, 2021

Spotting Rovers From Above and Asteroids From Afar

Space Snapshot

Zhurong Mars Rover

China's first Mars rover, Zhurong, is pictured next to its landing platform on the surface of the Red Planet. The rover traveled approximately 10 meters to drop off a wireless camera, then backed up in order to capture this spectacular image. The pair were also spotted from above by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: CNSA.

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Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

There has been an active robotic presence at Mars for 24 years. NASA’s Mars Pathfinder mission arrived in 1997, and activity has been continuously sustained either on the Martian surface or in orbit ever since.

Mission Briefings

Neo surveyor concept
small bodies

NASA is moving forward with NEO Surveyor. The agency has approved the asteroid-hunting mission for further development and a 2026 launch. The mission had previously languished in development for years, prompting The Planetary Society and other groups to advocate in support of it, including during our 2021 Day of Action. NASA and the White House have requested $46.2 million for NEO Surveyor in the latest budget. Pictured: An artist’s concept of NEO Surveyor. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.


China successfully completed its first crewed mission in five years. On June 17, astronauts Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng, and Liu Boming arrived at the Tianhe core module of their new space station several hours after blasting off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The crew will spend three months aboard Tianhe, testing equipment and preparing the space station for future astronauts.


NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) core stage and twin rocket boosters are officially stacked. The agency shared a stunning picture of the “backbone of the rocket” set between its twin solid rocket boosters inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The SLS will serve as the rocket for NASA’s Artemis I mission, laying the groundwork for astronauts to return to the Moon.


Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule is one step closer to liftoff: the first seat aboard its first crewed flight has been auctioned off for $28 million. After weeks of anticipation, a winning bidder has finally been declared but not named — we’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out their identity. The $28 million will go to Blue Origin’s STEM education nonprofit, Club for the Future.


Some assembly required: for the first time ever, a wooden satellite is going to outer space. In November, Arctic Astronautics, a Finnish manufacturer that makes CubeSat kits, will launch a plywood nanosatellite on board Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. Arctic Astronautics is interested in learning how plywood — in this case, treated with special coating — can perform in harsh conditions outside Earth’s atmosphere.

From The Planetary Society

Dart artists concept
Planetary Society logo bullet

Asteroids have been hitting Earth for billions of years. It's time to hit back! The newest edition of The Planetary Report, our quarterly magazine, is all about planetary defense. Members receive the magazine in the mail, but everyone can read it online for free. Learn all about the threat of incoming asteroids and the work we’re doing to defend Earth from impacts. Plus, find out what blockbuster movies get right and wrong about the asteroid threat. Pictured: NASA’s DART mission, which will intentionally crash into a small asteroid in 2022 to test a potential deflection technique. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL.

Planetary Society logo bullet

Our members make asteroid hunting possible. Thanks to member support, The Planetary Society has awarded more than 60 Shoemaker Near-Earth Object grants to astronomers around the world, enabling them to discover, track, and characterize thousands of asteroids. In this week’s Planetary Radio you’ll hear about this important work from two of these dedicated observers. Plus, on the show page check out a video tour of the GAL Hassin International Center for Astronomical Sciences in Italy where Shoemaker grant winner Alessandro Nastasi and his colleagues observe potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

What's Up

Mars illustration

In the evening sky look for Venus bright in the west setting right after the Sun, with dimmer Mars setting a bit later. Bright Jupiter and yellowish Saturn rise in the east at around midnight. Learn more at

Wow of the Week

Kt impact don davis

This painting from space artist and Planetary Society member Don Davis depicts a worst-case-scenario asteroid impact. An impactor like this caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and countless other species. Although an impact of this size is very rare, the work to defend the Earth from any impact is crucial. Image credit: Don Davis.