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The Planetary Society: Goals and Key Contributions to Astronomy and Space Exploration

written by: Anurag Ghosh•edited by: RC Davison•updated: 6/27/2011

The Planetary Society is the world’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to inspire and educate the public through its innovative research projects such as the Solar Sail, LIFE experiment as well as publications related to astronomy and space exploration.

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    The Planetary Society was founded by Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman and Bruce Murray in 1980 as an attempt to involve the world’s public to participate in various projects related to space exploration. With members from more than 125 nations around the world, the Society is the world’s largest space-interest group. It is the most influential organization on Earth with members ranging from science directors, astronauts, scientists, entrepreneurs to space enthusiasts, kids, parents and grandparents.

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    The Planetary Society’s Role in Space Exploration

    The Planetary Society Website Screenshot The objective behind Planetary Society’s evolution is to provide different ways for the public to have active roles in space exploration. Alongside various programs for its members, the Society develops innovative technologies and helps astronomers monetarily in space research and exploration. The organization also supports various programs dedicated to searching extraterrestrial life on other planets through its radio and optical searches.

    The Planetary Society website has loads of info, snippets and useful resources on topics related to astronomy and space technology.

    The site’s main features include:

    • A comprehensive space exploration timeline dating back to 4000 B.C

    • A timeline related to Planet Mars dating back to 1700 A.D.

    • An interesting virtual tour of the solar system, allowing members to explore and learn about different space missions: past and present.

    • The website provides exhaustive information about various projects including asteroid impact mapping system and the solar sailing project. It also educates the public about the solar system and the possibility of extraterrestrial life through Planetary Radio and Seti@Home programs.

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    Planetary Society: Innovative Projects in the Field of Space Exploration

    Through innovative ventures such as the Mars Microphone and the Solar Sail, The Planetary Society leads by examples. It also aims to participate and promote ambitious projects like Mars exploration. Here are some of its notable experiments:

    The Solar Sail:

    The Planetary Society, in collaboration with Cosmos Studios, built the first Solar Sail named Cosmos 1. The Solar Sail is a spacecraft that relies on the sun’s light particles, photons, to soar into space. The Cosmos 1 spacecraft was designed to rocket into space from a Volna rocket launched from a submarine. The main intention of this project was to prove that solar sailing was possible. Because a solar sail does not depend on an engine but on sunlight, it can accelerate for unlimited distances. It is one of the most viable technologies that can take astronauts to distant stars.

    Cosmos 1 was launched on June 21, 2005 from the Borisoglebsk submarine of the Russian Northern Fleet. Unfortunately, the first stage of the Volna rocket failed and Cosmos 1 did not enter orbit. But, it did not end the Planetary Society’s commitment to flying the first solar sail. Currently, the organization is planning to re-launch its project soon. Cosmos 1 is still regarded as one of the best innovations to date. It has also being revered as one of America’s 100 best innovations by the Readers Digest.

    The Life Experiment: Phobos Project:

    The LIFE (Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment) Experiment will unravel the mystery of the “Transpermia” hypothesis—that life can transfer from planet to planet if rocks (filled with living organisms) blasted off from one planetary surface, due to a meteoric impact, land on another planetary surface.

    The experiment conducted by the Planetary Society will test whether life survives the interplanetary voyage and it will take the help of the Russian Space agency to do so. You can learn in-depth information about the experiment in this special article by the Planetary Society.

    The “Drive a Mars Rover” Project:

    The project enables web users to experience the explorations of unknown planets through the perspective of a robotic rover. The “Drive a Mars Rovers” project involves a network of Mars station lookalikes around the world. Each station has a LEGO rover that’s equipped with a web cam. Web users can connect to the rover and drive the rovers to view a simulated Martian environment.

    The Planetary Society teamed up with the famous toymaker LEGO Company to create a network of Mars stations and robotic rovers.

    The Mars Microphone Project:

    The Mars Microphone project began in 1996. The entire project was donated by the members of the Planetary Society. The main aim was to send microphones to planets like Mars and record various ambient noises on the planetary surfaces and then broadcast it to the public after returning. The Planetary Society had already sent a microphone to planet Mars in 1999 via NASA’s Mars Polar Lander, but unfortunately the spacecraft carrying the microphone crashed. Still, the Society plans another Mars Microphone to be on board a spacecraft to Mars in the near future.

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    Images of Planetary Society's Projects

    The Mars MicrophoneThe LIFE BiomodulePlanetary Society's Drive a Mars Rover Project
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    There are many other projects sponsored by the Society to encourage further explorations in space. Projects such as the Near-Earth Objects Research and Missions, Search for Extraterrestrial Life and various scholarships are privately funded by members.

    The Planetary Society, through its innovative projects and sincere objectives has certainly inspired millions of people to participate actively in space exploration and other ventures.

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    All Images/Screenshots courtesy of The Planetary Society