This year offers the public many exciting space missions and events.
2013 will be an exciting year for Curiosity as she roams Mars. After making many discoveries in her first months, she may begin her climb up Mount Sharp later in the year. Curiosity's smaller cousin, Opportunity, is still active and on July 7 will mark its tenth anniversary of being launched to Mars.
Orbital's Antares rocket and Cygnus supply capsule are scheduled for the first test launch sometime in March at Virginia's Wallops Island launch facility. Washington, DC area residents can drive to see a launch and return in one day. A second launch scheduled for May 3 has the goal of docking with the International Space Station (ISS). Wallops visitor's center: http://sites.wff.nasa.gov/wvc/
Three Russian Soyuz rockets will send crew to ISS, launching on March 28, May 28 and November 25.
Space X plans two cargo launches to ISS in 2013, one on March 1 and the second on September 30.
Astronauts on our space station will continue doing advanced research to pave the way for future space missions as well as for down-to-earth applications.
Meanwhile, Cassini will continue returning stunning images from Saturn; Messenger will bring us more data and images from Mercury; Dawn, which departed asteroid Vesta last year, will spend the year enroute to the largest asteroid, Ceres. Juno will arrive at Jupiter in 2016, but on Oct. 9 will do a flyby of Earth to slingshot it on its way.
Two planetary probes on the launch pad this year will herald new discoveries from the moon and Mars. The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will "gather detailed information about conditions near the lunar surface and environmental influences on lunar dust," which can assist future lunar explorers live with the abrasive dust on the moon. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) will investigate Mars' upper atmosphere.
Major skywatching events include the Perseid (August 12) and Geminid (December 13-14) meteor showers, a partial eclipse of the moon on October 18, and a partial solar eclipse on November 3 which will be just slighty visible from the DC area around dawn. There is also the possibility of a tremendous display from comet "Ison" from mid-November through December.
Rounding out the year will be the launch on December 11 by Russia of a new module for ISS named "Nauka," the "Multipurpose Laboratory Module," which will feature a new European robotic arm.
China is expected to launch three astronauts to their micro-space station in June; their next step in their drive to land on the moon in the 2020's.
NASA watchers will look for any possible changes in the leadership at NASA, as well as the effects of budget cuts on planned and existing programs and missions.
NASA's launch schedule: www.nasa.gov/missions/highlights/schedule.html
You can watch launches live or on-demand, videos from the space station, and other space news at NASA TV: www.nasa.gov/ntv. NASA offers a free phone app too.