[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:

Our sincere best wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy 2014, and hope you are staying warm and dry this winter as we receover from our "Polar Vortex" weather event.

Your observatory is doing fine, with active volunteers spending time on the roof getting rid of snow and ice after every storm¦ we have not missed a visitor session due to snow accumulation yet this winter -- or ever, for that matter.

As followers of space exploration missions over the years, we have been much impressed and enthused lately at the worldwide scope of new and challenging science missions from countries now entering the community of space explorers.

Global skills and ingenuity are at work as never before in exploration... in ways only dreamed of in the past

Some examples of recently-launched vehicles on challenging journeys to explore the solar system and beyond are:

India launched a Mars mission in November, and it has successfully begun the long journey to Mars. The Mangalyaan mission's goal is to have an orbiting probe that will study the Martian surface and mineral composition, besides sniffing the atmosphere for methane.

China placed a lunar spacecraft called Chang'e 3 on the lunar surface Dec. 14 and deployed a rover called Yutu, with instruments intended to study the makeup of minerals on and near the surface.

This is an initial step towards the Chinese goal of a human presence on the moon. This was the first soft landing on the moon since 1976.

Japan has a vehicle travelling to study Venus. The AKATSUKI vehicle, launched in 2010, is working on the means to enter into its intended orbit of Venus after encountering technical difficulties early in its life that caused it to fail to be inserted into the planned orbit. The vehicle will near Venus again 2015, and a new attempt to enter a Venus orbit will be attempted.

And a long-time participant in space exploration, the European Space Agency, launched a fabulous new space telescope named GAIA in December to study the Milky Way galaxy and environs.

It has very ambitious plans to map the Milky Way in detail in 3D, study a billion stars, and greatly increase the accuracy of distance measurements to nearby stars.

In so doing, the goal is to "reveal the composition, formation and evolution of the galaxy."

An exciting adventure indeed. See much more at www.sci.esa.int/gaia/.

All of these missions will increase mankind's scientific knowledge base of the solar system and its place in universe, adding onto the breathtaking recent expansion of this body of knowledge.

Underneath the covers of these missions are the fruits of many global collaborations and shared experiences from over 55 years of intense space exploration.

Sir Isaac Newton, the great physicist and mathematician, famously said "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

This is more true now than ever, as globally-shared knowledge of the universe is being achieved by standing on the shoulders of countless giants who have been filling in the blanks of how our universe works, and what it is made of, and how it started and matured, and what its future may be.

And, of course, how to make vehicles and instruments that can do the serious work of measuring and analyzing, and understanding the information gathered. Giants, indeed.

The greatest thing about modern science is that discoveries of nature's secrets eventually become shared. They ultimately cross all political boundaries.

Science holds promise to be a great unifier in our world, the means by which we make real headway on dealing with tomorrow's issues in ever more effective ways. No place is that sharing more evident than in space exploration.

We all hope that continues and grows.

The volunteers

McCarthy Observatory

New Milford