Advertisement
The International Space Station is seen against the Sun, near the edge of the Moon's shadow during the solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Moon became a key focus point for NASA in 2017, whether it was blocking out the Sun during one of the most-viewed events in U.S. history, or reinvigorating the agency’s human space exploration plans.

One of the numerous NASA-related activities and actions the Trump Administration did in 2017 was to reconstitute the National Space Council. During its first meeting on Oct. 5, Vice President Mike Pence directed NASA to develop a plan to help extend human exploration across our solar system, and return astronauts to the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars and other destinations.

The White House’s support of NASA in 2017 extended across the breadth of the agency’s activities, including:

  • President Trump signing the 2017 NASA Authorization Act in March
  • The President calling the International Space Station from the Oval Office in April and U.S. record-setting NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson following her landing in September
  • Vice President Pence visiting NASA’s Johnson Space Center in June, Kennedy Space Center in July, and Marshall Space Flight Center in September
  • The Vice President seeing spacecraft preparations in October for NASA’s next mission that will land on the Red Planet: InSight

“When you see highlights of NASA’s achievements over the year listed in one place, it’s pretty amazing what we’ve been able to achieve,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “Seeing so many challenging efforts become completed accomplishments is a testament to the determination of our entire extended NASA team. While I’m proud of what we did in 2017, another full plate of missions awaits us in 2018 that will surely inspire with their discoveries and technological advances.

“And for the sixth year in a row, NASA has retained its standing as the number one large agency in the ‘Best Places to Work in Government’ rankings published by the Partnership for Public Service. I want to congratulate and commend our amazing workforce for their teamwork and dedication, which has enabled so many achievements in all our missions on behalf of the American people and the world.”

Solar System and Beyond
2017’s top story in terms of public interest for NASA was, by far, the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. It was one of the biggest internet events in recent history and the biggest online event NASA has ever measured. There were more than 50 million views of the live broadcast on NASA.gov and multiple social media platforms, and almost 31 million unique views on Facebook before and after the eclipse. These numbers mean the agency was able to share the scientific study of this celestial phenomenon with millions of people around the world, capturing a wealth of images before, during, and after the eclipse by spacecraft, aircraft, high-altitude balloons and astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Here are some of this year’s other highlights in the solar system and beyond:

  • A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close Sept. 15, as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a fateful plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet. The mission transformed our understanding of ocean worlds, where life may potentially exist beyond Earth.
  • Humanity's farthest and longest-lived space mission – NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 – celebrated 40 years of unprecedented science findings and imagery on Sept. 5. NASA continues to communicate with the spacecraft daily as they explore the frontier where interstellar space begins.
  • A spacecraft that will touch the Sun was named for a living researcher: Eugene N. Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is scheduled for launch in 2018 to explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere.
  • NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected the first light ever tied to a gravitational-wave event, thanks to two merging neutron stars in the galaxy NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth. NASA's Swift, Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer missions, along with dozens of ground-based observatories, later captured the fading glow of the blast's expanding debris.
  • The James Webb Space Telescope completed environmental testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Johnson Space Center as it readies for assembly into a single spacecraft ahead of launch in 2019.
  • NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star, with three planets located in the habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.
  • NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope found an exoplanet that snows sunscreen, but only on the side of the planet that permanently faces away from its host star.
  • NASA’s Kepler space telescope team released its most comprehensive and detailed catalog of exoplanet candidates, introducing 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone.
  • Astronomers using data from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and other telescopes found evidence for a star that whips around a black hole about twice an hour, which could be the tightest orbital dance ever witnessed between a possible black hole and a companion star.
  • NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return spacecraft successfully used Earth’s gravity on Sept. 22 to slingshot itself on a path toward the asteroid Bennu, for a rendezvous next summer. The spacecraft is on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of Bennu to Earth.
  • NASA selected two new planetary missions on Jan. 4 that have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system. The Lucy mission will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids, while the Psyche mission will study a unique metal asteroid that’s never been visited before. 
  • Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones and plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant.
  • On Oct. 19, the NASA-funded Pan-STARRS1 telescope discovered the first confirmed object to travel through our solar system from another star. The historic discovery revealed the interstellar interloper to be a rocky, cigar-shaped object with a ratio of length to width unlike any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system.
  • An international team of astronomers led by NASA scientists successfully completed the first global exercise using a real asteroid – 2012 TC4 - to test global response capabilities. The exercise tested the International Asteroid Warning Network for hazardous asteroid observations, modeling, prediction and communication.
     

Read more about NASA's accomplishments this year involving Mars, the ISS, Earth, aeronatics and more, here.

Advertisement
Advertisement