Space Time

The Long Goodbye

How NASA’s Deep Space Network said goodbye to three planet-hunting missions

Shannon Stirone
Published in
5 min readDec 12, 2018


Photo by AI SEIB/AFP/Getty Images

OnOn December 24, 1963, William Pickering, the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, signed a letter officially creating the Deep Space Network (DSN). The NASA network is a series of large radio antennas that serve as the communication and navigation hub for all robotic spacecrafts that travel in deep space (anything from the moon and beyond).

In the 55 years since its initiation, the DSN has expanded and is now made up of three stations around the world: Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia. Each station is home to one 70-meter antenna and three or four 34-meter antennas. These radio dishes are how NASA tracks and communicates with all of its robotic missions in space. (You can watch humans on Earth talking to spacecrafts in deep space at DSN Now.)

This year, the DSN witnessed several missions achieve impressive feats, including the most recent landing of the spacecraft InSight on Mars, where it will probe beneath the planet’s surface to learn more about Mars’ formation. The DSN also experienced three major spacecraft losses this year, and while those spacecrafts’ discoveries will be mined for years to come, their departures can feel grief-inducing for followers.