If you take a look at all of the NASA space missions that have happened, there are a few names that will be quite familiar, but hundreds that have gone unknown.
Some of these little heralded missions had very important goals, including putting satellites out in Earth’s atmosphere that give us the ability to use our cell phones and have GPS.
Other missions have headed out into our solar system to gather information, send pictures back, and explore the planets, their moons, and asteroids.
Each time we send a mission out into space we get more data on our solar system, the galaxy, and the universe.
- 1972 and 1973 brought the Pioneer 10 and 11 launches. These were the first spacecrafts designed to visit some of our solar system’s gas giants, Saturn and Jupiter, and pass through the asteroid belt.
We learned about Jupiter’s great red spot and the rings of Saturn, as well as the moons around each of these planets.
- The Viking I probe landed on Mars in 1976 and was the first man-made object that had a successful soft landing on the red planet.
It is the longest-running Mars surface mission, lasting 6 years and 116 days.
Viking sent back the first color pictures of the surface of Mars.
- Voyager 1 and 2 were probes that were launch shortly after the Pioneers.
They made incredible discoveries about the presence of volcanism on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, did a flyby of Uranus where it found 10 new moons, discovered that Neptune weighs less than anyone thought, and found new information on the rings of both Saturn and Jupiter.
Both probes were designed to leave our solar system and when Voyager 1 was almost at the border, Dr. Carl Sagan asked NASA to turn it around and see Earth.
The image is now the famous “Pale Blue Dot” which shows Earth as just a few blue pixels.
Both of the Voyager probes have enough energy to continue transmitting until 2025.
- 1997 brought the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft and it was completely unique in design and function.
The Cassini portion of the craft was to orbit around Saturn taking incredible pictures of the rings, weather, and the moons.
The Huygens part was a probe that separated from the craft to land on Saturn’s moon, Titan and send back data and information from that moon.
The space mission was a joint project between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).
- The 1999 Chandra X-Ray Observatory has been using x-rays to scan the outer skies.
The Observatory has high-resolution mirrors and can see sources of x-rays that are 100 times fainter than any other telescope could previously see.
Chandra was the first to see a star that was crushed after a supernova, observing the remains of Cassiopeia A.
- The WMAP is short for Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and was launched in 2001.
The goal of this powerful little probe was to measure with the highest level of accuracy the temperature of radiation left over from the Big Bang.
- In 2009, NASA launched the Kepler observatory aboard a Delta II rocket.
The ability for Kepler to “see” beyond the scope of current telescopes is already giving us information on finding earth-sized planets that are orbiting other suns.
The mapping of the cosmic microwave radiation assisted scientists with theories in cosmology about the origin and nature of the universe, including the approximate age (13.7 billion years).
It also confirmed that 95% of the universe is made up of something that we still don’t understand: dark energy and dark matter.
- 2005 saw the launch of the Spitzer Space Telescope which has had an incredible effect on astrophysics and cosmology.
It observes the heavens using infrared light that is mostly blocked by our atmosphere on Earth.
The pictures that Spitzer has taken include beautiful shots of stars, nebulae, and galaxies.
The telescope has been responsible for many groundbreaking discoveries, including the ability to detect light from extrasolar planets and possibly the birth of some of the first stars born in the universe.
- In 2018, the ESA (European Space Agency) released the largest sky map to date.
The three-dimensional map was constructed from the data obtained from the Gaia spacecraft.
Launched in 2013, has two telescopes, and takes photos of the entire sky every two months.
The information from the map shows us the location of half a million other galaxies and as many as 14,000 asteroids in our own solar system.
In the next years it is believed that the data will help us to find new exoplanets.
- Space exploration has created a monstrosity of millions of pieces of space junk and it is so bad that there is fear that both the future space missions and even the ISS (International Space Station) will get hit with this junk as it speeds through space.
Researchers at England’s University of Surrey have sent a satellite by the name of RemoveDEBRIS out into space.
The goal of the mission is to test the four pieces of technology to attempt to deorbit space junk which include: a net, a smaller satellite, a harpoon, and a dragsail. Scientists are hoping that by using the net, the debris will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere in just a few months.
- In the search for possible life on other planets we know that one of the criteria is liquid water, but another includes heat below the surface.
We once thought that Earth was the only planet that had volcanoes but the launch of the 2015 Dawn probe has shown that the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt has volcanoes.
There are other probes that have shown volcanic activity but Dawn changed the opinion about Ceres as scientists thought it was geologically dead.
So far, Dawn has found 22 cryovolcanoes on Ceres, although most are inactive.
- What probe was the first to make a successful soft landing on Mars?
- What is the famous picture of the earth taken by Voyager 1?
The Pale Blue Dot
- What spacecraft has taken photos that have allowed the largest space map to be created?
- What type of light does the Spitzer Space Telescope use to examine the heavens?
- What space probe found volcanic activity on the dwarf planet Ceres?
- What major space problem have researchers at the University of Surrey tried to address?
getting rid of space junk/debris