NASA Planetary Exploration Highlights From 2013

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)
This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Takes a Look Back at 2013

Mars

Mars is the centerpiece of NASA’s planetary exploration. The Curiosity rover continues to explore the planet, and in its first year already has accomplished its primary goal of determining that Mars could indeed have supported life in the past, possibly much later than originally thought. Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector instrument is helping scientists assess round-trip radiation doses for a human mission to Mars.

NASA also launched in November its next mission to the Red Planet, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, which will study the Martian upper atmosphere from orbit. NASA’s 2016 InSight mission narrowed its landing sites for Mars while the Mars 2020 team outlined its goals for our next rover to the planet.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Moon

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) launched in September to study lunar dust and help us better understand other planetary bodies and their formation. It also carried the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) — breakthrough new technology to improve communication with deep space missions that the agency will continue to refine and advance.

  • Aerospike

    Is “planetary exploration” a term for only those areas of possible “near term” human exploration? In any other case I find that list a bit lacking while there is so much “planetary exploration” going on in the solar system:
    * MESSENGER is studying Mercury
    *Opportunity is now in its 10th (!) year on Mars, a rover originally intended for a 3 month (!) mission!
    * Dawn left Vesta and is on its way to Ceres
    * Juno is on it’s way to Jupiter
    * Cassini continues to deliver amazing science from Saturn as well as gorgeous pictures!
    * New Horizon continues its long journey to Pluto