Exploring Mars: On Monday, NASA launched a spacecraft to study Mars’s upper atmosphere. NASA hopes to discover how the planet changed from a moist, potentially life-friendly place into the desert-like land it is now. The spacecraft, MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution), is solar-powered and about the length of a school bus. MAVEN will reach Mars in September 2014.

Presidential Medal of Freedom: This Wednesday, President Obama awarded 16 individuals with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive from the country. Recipients include Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, along with the editor who oversaw the coverage of Watergate, Ben Bradlee, and Sally Ride, the first woman to fly in space. For the full list of recipients, visit

Rep. Radel’s cocaine charge: Representative Trey Radel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of possession of cocaine on Wednesday. Police charged the 37-year-old first time legislator after he bought 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover police officer in D.C. on Oct. 29. The Republican from Florida received a one-year probation, and later announced he would take a leave of absence and donate his salary. On Thursday, Radel checked himself into a rehab facility.

50th anniversary of JFK assassination: On Friday, the nation marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In Dallas, where the assassination occurred, the city held a ceremony to honor the late President. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings gave a speech commemorating Kennedy at Dealey Plaza before a crowd of 5,000 guests. At the Arlington National Ceremony, various individuals visited the gravesite, from the members of the Kennedy family to political figures such as President Obama.

Senate’s nuclear option: The Senate voted 52-48 on Thursday to end the ability of the minority party to filibuster most presidential nominations. Now, the Senate will be able to cut off debate on nominees with a majority vote, instead of the supermajority 60 votes previously needed. The historic alteration of rules came after Republicans blocked multiple executive and judicial nominations made by President Obama. Republicans criticized the move, and pointed out the problems for the Democrats if they lose majority control.