This year, NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the agency’s Apollo 11 Moon landing, while making significant progress toward putting the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on December 24, 2019

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has been named the best large US Government agency to work for, for the eighth successive year.

The Best Places to Work rankings, calculated by the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group, puts NASA ahead of the Department of Health and Human Services, Intelligence Community, Department of Commerce and Department of Transportation.

“Throughout this year, as I have visited each of our centres, I have personally witnessed their unparalleled commitment to accomplishing our mission. The daily devotion of our employees makes them well deserving of this award,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “I am honoured to lead such a dedicated team. They are what makes NASA the Best Place to Work in Government.”

This year, NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the agency’s Apollo 11 Moon landing, the most historic moment in space exploration, while also making significant progress toward putting the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program.

Artemis gained bipartisan support this year among members of Congress, the US aerospace industry, and international partners, including Canada, Australia, and Japan, and member states of the European Space Agency.

NASA, Best Places to Work

“2019 will be remembered as the year the Artemis program really became a reality with real spaceflight hardware built, US commercial and international partnerships standing behind it, and hardworking teams across NASA and the world coming together like never before to quickly and sustainably explore the Moon and use what we learn there to enable humanity’s next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars,” said Bridenstine. “While the Artemis program came into sharp focus this year, NASA continued to show what leading in space exploration is all about, whether it was kicking off 2019 with New Horizons’ historic Kuiper Belt object flyby, conducting the first all-woman spacewalk outside the International Space Station, or developing the first flying robotic explorer to study Saturn’s moon Titan. And wait until you see what we do in 2020!”

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is scheduled to launch in July or August 2020 with the aim being to search for signs of past microbial life, characterise Mars’ climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. It is scheduled to land in an area of Mars known as Jezero Crater on 18 February 2021.


On 17 December, engineers took NASA’s next Mars rover for its first driving test. A preliminary assessment of its activities found that the rover checked all the necessary boxes as it rolled forward and backward and pirouetted in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The next time the Mars 2020 rover drives, it will be rolling over Martian soil.

“Mars 2020 has earned its driver’s license,” said Rich Rieber, the lead mobility systems engineer for Mars 2020. “The test unambiguously proved that the rover can operate under its own weight and demonstrated many of the autonomous-navigation functions for the first time. This is a major milestone for Mars 2020.”

The Mars 2020 rover is designed to make more driving decisions for itself than any previous rover. It is equipped with higher-resolution, wide-field-of-view colour navigation cameras, an extra computer “brain” for processing images and making maps, and more sophisticated auto-navigation software. It also has wheels that have been redesigned for added durability.

The Mars 2020 rover takes over the work of the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity that landed on Mars in 2004 and discovered evidence that the planet once hosted running water before becoming a frozen desert.The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012 and has been roaming Gale Crater, which, it discovered, contained a lake billions of years ago and an environment that could have supported microbial life. The rover is still hunting for clues related to this environment as it ascends the 3-mile-tall (5-kilometre-tall) Mount Sharp, which sits within Gale Crater and was partially formed by water.

Some 3,760 miles (6,050 kilometres) away, Mars 2020 will also explore a landscape shaped by water: Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient delta. But 2020 will take the next scientific step: It will look for actual signs of past life, or biosignatures, capturing samples of rocks and soil that could be retrieved by future missions and returned to Earth for in-depth study.

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