The missions got the nod for their contribution to forwarding science
Popular Science magazine has just announced that three missions managed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California, will be recognized by the “Best of What's New” Award in the publication's aviation and space category.PopSci says that the three winners are the NASA Dawn, Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) missions. They are bound for the asteroid Vesta, the Red Planet, and Mercury, respectively.
Dawn is already at Vesta, having sent back impressive datasets already. It will finish its primary mission in July 2012, after which time it will exit the asteroid's orbit, and head out to the dwarf planet Ceres. The MSL will arrive at Mars in August 2012, a month after Dawn leaves Vesta.
MESSENGER, on the other hand, has been in space for 7 years. It entered orbit around Mercury only this year, after carrying out a flyby of Earth, two of Venus and three of Mercury. All three missions are firsts in their own rights.