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The Exploration of Our Solar System - Travelling The Stars
Space: The Final Frontier
"To Boldly go where no man has gone before." - Star Trek 1966 - 1969.
The vastness of space; something that at one point we never even considered to exist never mind explore; but could space truly become humankind's final frontier?
Could we really reach out and touch the stars?
Or will it just stay in the dreams of our children?
To know this we need to look to the past; travelling all the way back to where it all started: the formation of Astronomy and then work our way back through our animal and human explorations of space back to the present and close future.
What is Astronomy?
Astronomy is the study of galaxies and the suns, stars, planets, moons, comets, gases, dust and other bodies within it alongside any phenomena that may occur, or more simply: “the study of stars, planets and space.” - NASA K-4 Student definition.
Why Is Astronomy Important today?
Throughout time humans have looked up into the sky, to navigate across oceans, to see when to plant crops and to answer the question of where we came from and how we got to where we are today.
Astronomy is used for many things these days including: Industry, Energy, Medicine and even down to things in every day life; the most common being WLAN used in computers and other internet using and compatible devices to access the internet.
Now, let's move on to man in space.
Man's Journey Into Space
At first, man (or humankind) were not actually the first life form from earth sent into space, it was a dog called Laika who was launched into space by the Russian Sputnik 2 spacecraft in 1957.
After the success of Laika, several other dogs along with rats, goldfish, frogs and other animals were launched into space around the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
The sending of these life forms dawned the beginning of the "Space Race".
The Space Race
The Space Race was a competition between two Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US) during the 20th-century (between 1955 and 1972).
On October 4, 1957, Russia launched Sputnik (meaning “traveller” in Russian), the world’s first artificial satellite and the also the first man-made object to be placed into orbit creating thus creating a new urgency for the US.
As a response the U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer I, in 1958 designed by the U.S. Army. That same year, with the signing of a public service order by President Dwight Eisenhower NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was born, a federal agency, until this day, dedicated to space exploration.
In 1959, the Soviet space program launched Luna 2, the first space probe to hit the moon.
In April 1961, the Soviet by the name of Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit Earth, travelling in the Vostok 1.
On May 5 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space (unfortunately not into orbit) followed by John Glenn In February 1962, who became the first American to orbit Earth.
December of 1968 marked the launch of Apollo 8, by the US, it was the first manned space mission to orbit the moon.
On July 16, 1969, the U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins left the Earth's atmosphere on the Apollo 11 space mission, of which was the first lunar landing attempt and a successful one at that making Armstrong the first man to walk on the moon’s surface on July 20, he famously called the moment “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” therefore deeming the United States as the winner of the space race.
This however did not stop the Soviets from making four more attempts to launch a lunar landing craft between 1969 and 1972, but unfortunately all four attempts were failures.
Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds, I'm not talking Science Fiction film alien style probing, I'm talking space probes, to explore planets and their moons.
Let's start with Mars, the red planet...
The first probes to land on Mars were built and sent by the Soviet Union, named Mars 2 and Mars 3, both in arriving in 1971; unfortunately neither the Mars 2 or 3 were successful missions.
The first probe Mars 2 crash landed on the planet and the second Mars 3 stopped working only seconds after landing, however they were still the first to land (or crash) onto the planets surface.
The first actual successful landing on Mars were made by the American Viking 1 and Viking 2 in 1976.
Mercury is the least explored planet from the inner part of our solar system; Only the Mariner 10 and Messenger missions have even made close examinations of the planet, however, none have yet landed on the planet.
Looking further out into space, Uranus has only been visited by one craft, the Voyager 2 in 1986; The same craft did a flyby of Neptune in 1989.
Saturn was first viewed by the Cassini spacecraft in 2004 on a flyby mission.
The only spacecraft to have even orbited Jupiter is the Galileo craft which took place in 2005.
Last but not least is one of the most important, if not the most important invention for humankind, the Hubble Space Telescope (launched in 1990); the telescope has helped us on countless occasions as a tool for for studying space.
Future Missions and Explorations
Last but not least it's time to look to the future, I have found information of missions and future explorations from 2015 - 2023, so lets do some time travel, into the future to see where we could be going over the next 9/10 years.
- February – NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will enter orbit around Ceres, becoming the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet.
- May – The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch an orbiter towards Venus.
- July – NASA’s Horizon spacecraft will reach Pluto (once considered our 9th planet), which will make it the first spacecraft to do a flyby of Pluto and returning the first close-up images of this distant world and its moons.
- The ESA’s Don Quijote spacecraft will launch, a mission to cause impact on an asteroid to see if such a method could be used to deflect an asteroid away from Earth.
- China will land its unmanned Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the Moon.
- Russia is expect to land two unmanned probes on the Moon, Luna-Glob 1 and 2.
- The ISRO will land the Chandrayaan-2 rover on the Moon with a lunar orbiter.
- NASA’s InSight will launch to the Mars to study beneath the surface using a drill.
- NASA will launch an asteroid sample return mission called OSIRIS-REx.
- Russia will launch a new orbiter called Venera-D to orbit Venus.
- Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft will complete its first flight, launching on an Atlas V rocket.
- NASA’s solar powered spacecraft named Juno will arrive at Jupiter.
- January – The ESA’s new solar orbiter named SOLO will launchon a journey to the Sun.
- December – Will mark the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, which will take the Orion spacecraft on an unmanned flight around the Moon.
- China will launch another Moon mission named Chang’e 5, with the goal of returning lunar samples to Earth.
- January – Inspiration Mars will launch, a 501-day two person flyby mission to Mars and then return to Earth.
- NASA’s Solar Probe Plus will launch and will begin it's approach towards the sun to within 8.5 solar radii (0.034 AU / 5.9 million kilometres), the closest any spacecraft has even got to the Sun.
- The ESA’s ExoMars rover will launch to you guessed it, Mars, using the previously launched Trace Gas Orbiter as its way to communicate back to Earth; the ESA's ExoMars rover will be the agency's first landing on the Red Planet.
- NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), will be launched as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
- A proposed NASA telescope called EXCEDE (Exoplanetary Circumstellar Environments and Disk Explorer) will be launched to observe planet formation around nearby stars.
- The ISS (International Space Station) will be decommissioned and de-orbited around 2020.
- Russia will launch the the Luna-Grunt 1 mission sending an orbiter, lander and rover to the Moon.
- The ESA and NASA may attempt a mission to Mars with the objective of returning samples from the red planet.
- Russia’s Luna-Grunt 2 (Russia's next lunar lander), will return samples to Earth.
- NASA’s Orion spacecraft will fly with a crew of least four astronauts for the first time and will potentially take astronauts to visit an asteroid.
- ESA will launch its new deep-space probe, named JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) to study the Jovian system, specifically Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.
- Mars One is expecting to land the first ever human settlers onto the Red Planet.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. - T. S. Eliot
Disclaimer: I have attempted to quote the original sources / authors of the quotes I have used, if these are incorrect, feel free to notify me and I will change them ASAP.