Past,Present & Future

For as long as there have been people on Earth, we have looked up at the sky and wondered about the Sun, Moon, stars, and occasional dramatic events we saw there. But it is only in the past 40 years that we developed the technical ability to leave our planet and actually visit other bodies in the universe. After World War II, both the United States and the Soviet Union created programs to impove the design of rockets which would make space travel possible. What then followed was a race to travel into space with unmanned probes and manned spacecraft.

During the last four decades, hundreds of satellites, probes and space shuttles have been launched, which have explored near-Earth space, travelled to the Moon, the Sun, and to all the planets except Pluto. And, with permanent space stations already in orbit around Earth and telescopes exploring more and more of our universe, space research is still continuing. Talk of future developments includes building a colony on Mars, searching for life in other galaxies, and other exciting programs.

It was not long after the first space satellites were launched that we succeeded in getting a human being into space. These first astronauts and cosmonauts (the Russian word for astronaut) were test pilots who were very familiar with flying in fast and dangerous planes! The first human being to travel into space was Yuri Gagarin (USSR, 1961), followed a month later by the US astronaut Alan Shepard. Once we found out that humans could travel in space, a “space race” quickly developed between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States main interest was to land on the moon. The Soviet Union was more interested in setting endurance records and doing scientific research.

Missions to Planets and Moons:

Fifty years ago, before the beginning of the Space Age, the planets and smaller bodies of our solar system were mysterious, with little known in detail. Beginning in the 1960s, space probes began to journey to these other worlds, resulting in a revolution in knowledge that is still continuing.

This document outlines the history of our explorations of the solar system and what we have learned.


  • Mariner 10 – NASA Flyby Mission to Venus and Mercury (1973)
  • MESSENGER – NASA Orbiter to Mercury (2004)
  • BepiColombo – ESA/JAXA Orbiter Mission to Mercury (2013)


  • Venus Express – ESA Venus Orbiter (2005)
  • MESSENGER – NASA Mercury Orbiter (2004) (Two Venus Flybys)
  • Magellan – NASA Venus Radar Mapping Mission (1989-1994)
  • Pioneer Venus – NASA Orbiter/Probes to Venus (1978-1992)
  • Galileo – NASA Mission to Jupiter (Venus flyby – 1990)
  • Vega 1 – Soviet mission to Venus and Comet Halley (Venus flyby – 1985)
  • Vega 2 – Soviet mission to Venus and Comet Halley (Venus flyby – 1985)
  • Venera – Soviet Venus Missions (1961-1983)
  • Mariner 10 – NASA Mission to Venus and Mercury (1973-1975)
  • Mariner 5 – NASA Venus flyby (1967)
  • Mariner 2 – NASA Venus flyby (1962)

The Moon:

  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – NASA Lunar Orbiter Mission (2009)
  • LCROSS – NASA Lunar Impactor Mission (2009)
  • Chandrayaan-1 – ISRO (India) Lunar Orbiter Mission (2008)
  • Chang’e 1 – CAST (China) Lunar Orbiter Mission
  • Kaguya (SELENE) – JAXA Lunar Orbiter Mission
  • SMART 1 – ESA Lunar Orbiter Mission
  • Lunar Prospector – NASA Lunar Discovery Mission
  • AsiaSat 3/HGS-1 – Commercial Telecommunications Satellite
  • Clementine – DoD/NASA Lunar Mapping Mission
  • Hiten – ISAS Lunar Flyby and Orbiter
  • Galileo – NASA Mission to Jupiter – Lunar Flyby
  • Apollo – NASA Lunar Manned Missions
  • Lunar Orbiter – NASA Lunar Mapping Missions
  • Surveyor – NASA Lunar Lander Missions
  • Ranger – NASA Lunar Impact Missions
  • Luna and Zond – Soviet Lunar Missions


  • Phoenix – NASA Mars Scout Lander (2007)
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – NASA Orbiter (2005)
  • Mars Exploration Rovers – Two NASA Rovers to Mars (2003) Spirit and Opportunity.
  • Mars Express – ESA Mars Orbiter and Lander (2003)
  • 2001 Mars Odyssey – NASA Orbiter Mission to Mars (2001)
  • Mars Polar Lander – NASA attempted lander to Mars (1999)
  • Deep Space 2 – NASA attempted penetrator mission to Mars (1999)
  • Mars Climate Orbiter – NASA attempted orbiter to Mars (1998)
  • Nozomi (Planet-B) – ISAS (Japan) orbiter to Mars (1998)
  • Mars Global Surveyor – NASA Mars orbiter (1996)
  • Mars Pathfinder – NASA lander and rover to Mars (1996)
  • Mars 96 – Russian attempted mission to Mars (1996)
  • Mars Observer – NASA attempted mission to Mars (1992)
  • Phobos – Soviet missions to Mars (1988)
  • Viking – NASA orbiters/landers to Mars (1975)
  • Mars 6 – Soviet Mars lander (1973)
  • Mars 5 – Soviet Mars orbiter (1973)
  • Mariner 9 – NASA Mars orbiter (1971)
  • Mars 3 – Soviet Mars orbiter and lander (1971)
  • Mars 2 – Soviet Mars orbiter and lander (1971)
  • Mariner 7 – NASA Mars flyby (1969)
  • Mariner 6 – NASA Mars flyby (1969)
  • Mariner 4 – NASA Mars flyby (1964)


  • Cassini – NASA/ESA Mission to Saturn via Jupiter
  • Galileo Orbiter – NASA Mission to Jupiter
  • Galileo Probe – NASA Mission to Jupiter
  • Voyager 1 – NASA Mission to Jupiter and Saturn
  • Voyager 2 – NASA Mission to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and beyond
  • Ulysses – NASA/ESA Mission to study the solar wind via Jupiter
  • Pioneer 10 – NASA Jupiter flyby (1973)
  • Pioneer 11 – NASA Jupiter flyby (1974)


  • Cassini – NASA/ESA Mission to Saturn
  • Huygens – NASA/ESA Mission to Saturn’s satellite Titan
  • Voyager 1 – NASA Mission to Jupiter and Saturn
  • Voyager 2 – NASA Mission to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and beyond
  • Pioneer 11 – NASA Saturn flyby (1979)


  • Voyager 2 – NASA Mission to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and beyond


  • Voyager 2 – NASA Mission to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and beyond


  • New Horizons – Pluto Flyby, Kuiper Belt mission (2006)

Asteroids and Comets:

  • Dawn – NASA Orbiter of Asteroids Ceres and Vesta (2007)
  • Rosetta – ESA Comet Mission, will fly by asteroids Steins and Lutetia (2004)
  • Hayabusa (Muses-C) – ISAS (Japan) Sample Return Mission to Asteroid 25143 Itokawa (2003)
  • Genesis – NASA Discovery Solar Wind Sample Return Mission (2001)
  • Stardust – NASA Comet Coma Sample Return Mission, flew by asteroid AnneFrank (1999)
  • Deep Space 1 – NASA Flyby Mission to asteroid Braille (1998)
  • Cassini – NASA/ESA Mission to Saturn through the Asteroid Belt (1997)
  • NEAR – NASA Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous with 433 Eros
  • Galileo – NASA Mission to Jupiter via asteroids Gaspra and Ida

Future Missions:

There have been a lot of discussions concerning the path NASA should follow related to its current and future space missions, but no solid conclusion has been drawn yet. The collaboration between Barack Obama’s new NASA transition team and Michael Griffin, NASA’s current administrator, has not been exactly fructuous, approaches in various aspects come from several sources, and it’s hard to make a decision that would please everybody. A new review from MIT’s Space, Policy and Society Research Group is aimed to shed some light on the situation.

At the core of NASA’s future space exploration is a return to the moon, where we will build a sustainable long term human presence. As the space shuttle program has been retired, NASA is building the next fleet of vehicles to bring astronauts back to the moon, and possibly to Mars and beyond.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *