NASA's Deep Space Network, the world's largest and most powerful communications system for "talking to" spacecraft, will reach a milestone on Dec. 24: the 50th anniversary of its official creation.
Over the past 50 years, antennas of the Deep Space Network (DSN) have communicated with just about every mission that has gone to the moon or beyond. The historic communiqués include "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind"; numerous encounters with the outer planets of our solar system; images taken by rovers exploring Mars; and the data confirming that NASA's Voyager spacecraft had finally entered interstellar space.
The Deep Space Network has been so critical to so many missions over the decades, the network's team members like to use the phrase "Don't leave Earth without us."
From the very beginning of NASA's space program, it was clear that a simple, direct way to communicate with missions in deep space would be needed. For example, what is the purpose of sending a spacecraft to Mars if we can't receive data, images and other vital information from that spacecraft?