Space travel, in many ways, is one of the greatest advancements of the human race. It is truly proving our sheer advancement and prowess as a civilization. It has shown us to be a civilization committed to exploring the world and the universe it inhabits. As technology develops and we make longer strides in the field of space exploration, scientists plan and execute more and more space missions. Described below are the 10 greatest space missions that nations all over the world have launched.
The Kepler Mission mainly focuses on exploration in our part of the Milky Way galaxy, to find Earth-like planets which have near habitable conditions. It aims at discovering the planets between half to twice the size of earth. It also looks for planets at a distance from their stars so as to make existence of liquid water possible. In this way, the mission aims to determine the percentage of planets that are in or near the habitable zone of the stars in Milky Way. It is detected by observing dips in the brightness of a star, and calculating various parameters which determine whether or not the planet would be habitable.
NASA launched the Chandra X-Ray Observatory in 1999, for observing the X-ray wavelengths of various astronomical elements. Before its launch, there was little to no observation possible of shorter wavelengths and X-rays coming from the space. This is because Earth’s atmosphere functions in a way that blocks most wavelengths across the part of the spectrum where X-rays lie. Chandra has high resolution mirrors and advanced equipment. It can detect and transmit information about X-ray sources which are 100 times fainter than what could be detected from the earth.
3. Sputnik 1
Perhaps the most famous satellite launch of all times, Sputnik- 1 is renowned as the first artificial satellite launched into space. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik- 1 in 1957 in a low- Earth orbit. It was a small metallic sphere of 58 cm diameter, and primarily transmitted radio impulses from its orbit around Earth for 3 weeks, until its batteries died. It was further in silent orbit for 2 months before falling back into the Earth’s atmosphere. The launch of Sputnik- 1 signified a major leap in scientific and technological advancements of the human race. It provided valuable information about the composition and physical attributes of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere.
4. Mars Pathfinder
The Mars Pathfinder, launched by NASA, landed on Mars in 1997 and is the first rover mission to function outside the Earth-Moon system. The rover, called Sojourner, conducted various experiments on the planet after being deposited on the surface of Mars by a lander. It analyzed various physical attributes of Mars, including geology, topography, climate, atmosphere, composition of the rocks and soil, etc. The Mars Pathfinder was especially noteworthy for its low-cost production and technology. A JPL Award for Technical Excellence for the Mars Pathfinder mission was awarded to the Sojourner team.
The Cassini- Huygens Space Mission, commonly called Cassini, was the result of an alliance between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The primary objective of the mission was to study the planet Saturn and its moons, in addition to Saturn’s extensive ring system. The unmanned spacecraft included NASA’s Cassini probe and ESA’s Huygens lander. Cassini is the first space probe to enter Saturn’s orbit. Widely considered to be successful beyond expectations, Cassini landed on Saturn’s largest moon Titan and was active for nearly 20 years after its launch. It transmitted detailed information and photos of planets like Jupiter in the course of its flybys on its way towards Saturn.
6. Voyager 1
NASA launched the Voyager 1 probe as a part of its mission to study the outer Solar System. Still functioning in the outer solar system region, it has been transmitting for nearly 42 years since its launch. At 21.7 billion kilometers away from the Earth, it is the most distant manmade object from the Earth. In the course of its journey to outer regions of our solar system, Voyager 1 conducted flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and its moon, Titan, because of the substantial atmosphere it possesses. It crossed the solar system in 1980, becoming the third artificial object to do so.
7. Vostok 1
Vostok 1 is an especially important space mission in history, because it was the first manned spaceflight in history. The Vostok 1 spacecraft carried onboard the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to cross into outer space. The spaceflight conducted one orbit around Earth, before reentering the atmosphere. The Soviet Union conducted numerous precursor unmanned missions to develop the final manned flight. The Soviet scientists developed the Vostok 1 mission secretly, in competition with Project Mercury of the United States.
8. Apollo 13
NASA launched Apollo 13, the seventh manned mission in the Apollo space program and a manned lunar mission, on April 11, 1970. The original mission was a successful lunar landing. The astronauts on board the spacecraft aborted the mission because of technical difficulties. Despite numerous difficulties in spacecraft function, including loss of heat and a malfunctioning carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to the Earth’s surface. In addition to this, the crew members of the Apollo 13 mission have travelled the farthest distance from Earth. They passed the far side of the moon, the farthest point of the flight being 4,00,171 kilometers from Earth.
9. The International Space Station
The ISS is an artificial satellite fit for human habitation. It circles the Earth in low orbit. It is the largest man made structure to orbit the low Earth orbit. One can often see the ISS with the naked eye. This artificial satellite is 357 feet long. American space shuttles and Russian Soyuz rockets launched the components of the space station into space. The ISS primarily functions as a space environment research laboratory, enabling research in various scientific fields, including biology, astronomy, meteorology, etc. The ISS is a collaboration between the space agencies of the USA, Japan, Canada., Russia and Europe.
10. Apollo 11
Apollo 11 is a historic spaceflight. It was the first manned lunar mission to successfully land on the moon. It carried on board Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon. The third crew member, Michael Collins, remained in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface of the moon. The spacecraft consisted of the command module Columbia and the Lunar Module Eagle. The moon landing was broadcast live all over the world. This moon mission is considered as one of the most significant leaps of humankind. The crew returned safely to Earth after more than eight days in outer space. They collected information and samples of lunar rock and soil for study and analysis.