Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Lori Glaze

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Words said when Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the Moon. These words shaped my generation and catapulted the field of planetary science to a new era. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon. NASA’s Planetary Science Division is preparing for a year of anniversaries in 2019 that not only celebrate our history and progress in human exploration, but also the science that was enabled by the exploration of space.

Following the successful Mariner 2 flyby of Venus in 1962 and the historic Moon landing of 1969, our community of planetary scientists needed a venue for communicating their findings and interacting with their peers. On March 12, 1969, the Universities Space Research Association was incorporated under an agreement between the National Academy of Science and NASA. That same year, Mariner 6 returned images from Mars. On December 11, 1969, the Universities Space Research Association took over the management of the nascent Lunar Science Institute (LSI), and shortly thereafter the first lunar symposium was organized. The first LSI symposium, “Geophysical Interpretation of the Moon,” was the initial meeting of 15 scientists for the explicit purpose of interpreting the existing data on the geophysics of the Moon. The LSI Seminar Series was established with Gerard P. Kuiper as the first featured speaker. The first Lunar Science Conference, known as the Apollo 11 Lunar Science Conference, was held in Houston on January 5–8, 1970. This historical event marked the first time we, as a community, discussed the first findings from the lunar samples. The next year Mariner 9 was the first spacecraft to orbit Mars, providing data of the entire martian surface. Apollo 14 collected even more lunar samples. Since then, we have continuously launched missions that have provided a community of scientists with data from each of the planets and some of the moons of the solar system.

In 1978, the name of the conference was changed from the Lunar Science Conference to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC). And the rest — as they say — is, indeed, history! The years passed and as more planets were visited and studied, LPSC grew. Mariner 10 provided the first views of Mercury; the Pioneer missions brought us closer to Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn; and the two Voyager spacecraft conducted a grand tour of the solar system. And because science is not done alone, our international colleagues joined us. In fact, participation in the 1974 “Lunar Geology Conference” included 132 international attendees, NASA Headquarters, other NASA centers, other government agencies (both U.S. and foreign), and universities.

In a sense LPSC and planetary science at NASA grew together. Since its inception, LPSC was connected to research of the Apollo program lunar samples and the culmination of discussions between NASA and academia. Since then, every year, seminal planetary science research and NASA missions have been ever-present topics of the LPSC.

I have been attending the LPSC every year since the 25th meeting in 1994. I recall my first presentation in the JSC Gilruth Center using viewgraphs and an overhead projector:  “A Theoretical Study of SO2 Transport by Explosive Volcanism on Venus.” I believe the audience consisted of about 20 people and the conversation was effervescent, providing paths to new collaborations and partnerships. The whole conference’s ambience was exciting and had a sense of family. The ice breakers kicked off the conference and facilitated communications between diverse groups of scientists that covered various disciplines.

Beyond the science, some of my fondest early memories of LPSC when it was held in Clear Lake, and later in League City, were the LPSC Chili Cookoffs. These events provided a great opportunity to develop friendships and collaborations in a social setting. The camaraderie and conversations sealed my already strong commitment to planetary science. In a sense, that was the impact the LPSC had on all of us. Finally, the planetary science community had a place that would cover all of its disciplines and provide scientists from diverse fields a platform to meet regularly and discuss findings and future plans. This is a place where geologists, chemists, planetary astronomers, dynamists, heliophysicists, atmospheric physicists, and microbiologists focus on one subject: the solar system with its planets and moons.

For the past 50 years, the primary goal of NASA’s Planetary Science Division has always focused on advancing our scientific knowledge of the origin and evolution of the solar system, the potential for life elsewhere, and safeguarding and improving life on Earth.

In 2019, LPSC will continue to regale us with the latest planetary science results and discoveries, reflecting on all the incredible planetary science events of 2018. As an international planetary science community, we have successfully launched and landed the InSight mission to Mars. JAXA’s Hayabusa2 arrived at asteroid Ryugu, deployed the MASCOT lander, and MINERVA-II1 touched down on Ryugu. OSIRIS-REx successfully arrived at its rendezvous with Bennu, and in December, began its orbit around the asteroid and sent us breathtakingly detailed data for a near-Earth object with tantalizing surface material to be sampled and brought back to Earth. In October, the European Space Agency successfully launched the BepiColombo missions to Mercury. And the year ended with a celebratory flyby of Ultima Thule by the New Horizons spacecraft, providing us with an unprecedented look at a primordial piece of our solar system preserved in the Kuiper belt.

As we look forward to the future and the planetary missions that will provide new observations that enable us discover more about how our solar system formed and evolved, I look forward to learning about these discoveries at our annual gatherings. I would like to congratulate the LPSC on 50 fantastic years and look forward to many more amazing science mysteries to be revealed each year going forward. Science never sleeps, and I cannot imagine our field without the LPSC or the LPSC without our field!

— Lori S. Glaze, Acting Director, NASA’s Planetary Science Division, January 2019