[The following is an open letter to Greater New Milford-area residents from the volunteers at the McCarthy Observatory on the campus of New Milford High School.]

Dear friends of the McCarthy Observatory: We hope all of you followed the high drama of the Rosetta vehicle from the European Space Agency as it landed an amazing small probe called Phinae, chock full of instruments, on the comet "67/P" in November.

Landing on an incredibly jagged, pitted and weirdly shaped small comet proved to be a dicey venture, with less-than-perfect results.

But significant science was accomplished, and there is hope more can come as it gets a little closer to the sun.

Dec. 4 was to be another exciting event, to many of us a very long-awaited step in the progress of the United States space program.

NASA was to attempt to launch the next generation vehicle into space -- the Orion crew module aboard a Delta IV rocket was scheduled to launch for a 4½- hour test flight on what is called "Exploration Flight Test One," ending in a Pacific Ocean splashdown.

Seeing a first in space flight, for a vehicle planned to be used for decades, is an experience few of you may have experienced.

Some of us grew up listening to Walter Cronkite announcing several generations of these milestone events from the early 1960s onward.

It sends chills up one's spine to see a first fight and is a great opportunity for your whole family to see a part of history.

We have missed a lunar eclipse due to clouds, and a couple of meteor showers for the same reason, but for this event our local weather would not interfere.

This is a big step toward the goal of transporting people to Mars.

Meanwhile, happy holidays, and please drive with extra caution in this month of crowded roads and likely slick conditions.

For more information about the observatory, its programs or anything else covered in this column, visit www.mccarthyobservatory.org or call 860-946-0312.

The volunteers

McCarthy Observatory

New Milford