This is a top ten list of the most groundbreaking space missions that have taken place. All of them had a deep impact on society and propelled the astronomical and space science to a higher place and resulted in a colossal amount of information about the world outside our world.
WMAP stands for Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. It has nothing to do with the kitchen top appliance, but everything with radiation left over from the Big Bang. This probe was launched in 2001, with the mission to measure the temperature of the Big Bang’s left over radiation that’s floating in space. The WMAP had an extremely accurate measuring system and consequently gained a terrific amount of information about the Big Bang, with more than one revelation in cosmological science. For example, WMAP’s data showed that the Big Bang took place around 13.7 billion years ago. Such a precise estimate wasn’t seen before. It also showed that 95% of the universe consists of dark matter and dark energy.
9. New Horizons
The New Horizons space mission was launched in 2006 and set out to research the dwarf planet Pluto. The spacecraft reached Pluto in 2015 and conducted a fly-by study of the dwarfplanet and its moon, Charon. The goal of the study was to answer basic questions about the surface features, geology and atmospheres of Pluto and its moon. The space probe sent back fantastic, detailed images of the planet and answered many of the questions asked.
The probe is still out in space after its Pluto mission. It is now continuing to the Kuiper belt to examine the ancient, icy mini-worlds that lie deeper ahead. The region behind Pluto is one that we have almost no information on yet. It is expected that the New horizons will return a lot of information that will dazzle scientists.
Genesis was the name of a NASA space probe that collected samples of solar winds and then returned to Earth. It was the first NASA sample return mission since Apollo and the first probe to return sample material from beyond the Moon’s orbit. The Genesis probe was launched in 2001 and returned to Earth in 2004. Unfortunately, the landing parachute was faulty and the probe made a crash landing, which contaminated and destroyed many of the samples. Luckily, scientists could save and recover some of the samples, which were in the end enough to complete the mission.
In 1951, the USSR was the first country to send an animal into an orbit around the Earth in space. At that time, it wasn’t yet possible to make a spacecraft return to Earth, so Laika the dog was set out to never make it back beforehand. The goal of the mission was to discover how a living creature would cope with the launch of a spacecraft and being in outer space.
Laika the dog died within hours of launching, due to overheating, possibly because of a failure of the space craft. This was only made public in 2002, the USSR government claimed she died after a few days when oxygen ran out.
6. Deep Impact
The sixth most groundbreaking space mission was that of the Deep Impact spacecraft. It set out in 2005 on an outer space mission to study comet Tempel 1, a comet that orbits around the world. For studying the comet, the probe needed to send out an impactor, reach the comet’s nucleus and collect debris of it. The Deep Impact spacecraft succeeded in doing this.
The photographs taken by the space probe showed the comet to be more dusty and less icy than expected. Also unexpected was the bright, large dust cloud that appeared after impact.
Deep Impact was the first space probe that single-handedly ejected material from a comet for studying and gained a lot of publicity for it.
The Cassini-Huygens is a joint unmanned spacecraft that was sent out in 1997. It arrived on its destination, the planet Saturn, in 2004. Since then it has been orbiting the planet while taking photographs of the planet’s rings, moons and weather. The Huygens probe detached itself from the Cassini probe and landed on Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005. It was the first landing on an outer solar system planet.
Cassini-Huygens wasn’t the first spacecraft to visit Saturn, but is the first one to orbit it and study the planet so intensively. Cassini is currently still orbiting Saturn, but will destroy itself in 2018 by crashing with the planet.
4. Viking 1
The first man-made spacecraft that landed successfully on Mars, was NASA’s Viking 1, in 1976. The USSR had already tried to land two spacecrafts on the red planet, but they failed. The Viking 1 remained on Mars for six years and 116 days and held the record for longest Mars surface mission until it was broken by the Opportunity probe in 2010. The Viking 1 was also the first probe to send back colour pictures of the surface to Earth. The Viking 1 was set out to collect data that could indicate if there was evidence of life. The tests came back positive, but many scientists believed the tests came back positive due to inorganic chemical reactions of the soil.
3. Yuri Gagarin – Vostok space mission
Yuri Gagarin was a Russian cosmonaut that completed the first orbit around the Earth in 1961. He was also the first man in space, a great milestone in the Space Race between the USSR and the United States.
The US also had a space program running to put a man in orbit outer space and return him safely. This program was discontinued almost immediately when the Soviets succeeded. The US then followed up with their Apollo program, to put a man on the moon.
The Apollo space mission is probably the most famous space encounter in the world. Almost everyone has heard or knows the words: “it’s one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind,” spoken by one of two of the first men on the moon Neil Armstrong. Video footage of the landing and the US flag that is planted there is also very widespread, even today. Many people, especially Americans, view this space mission to be the most important one in the recent history. The moon has mesmerized humans since the beginning of time, so it felt like a real accomplishment to first put a man on the moon.
With the other launches in the Apollo mission a total of almost 400 kilograms of lunar rocks and soil was returned to Earth and gave way to an extensive research of the matter, thus expanding our knowledge of the Moon and its system massively.
Also, avionics, telecommunications, and computer technology all underwent an amazing step forward due to the Apollo space missions. It really helped shape our current world and society.
1. Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity
In January 2004 two Mars Exploration Rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity, landed on Mars. They rode across the surface for years on end, taking pictures of interesting craters, holes, lumps and bumps. One of their most groundbreaking finds is evidence that the Martian surface once had liquid water. This is a groundbreaking fact, because liquid water is a vital condition for the possibility of living organisms. That means there maybe once were living organisms on Mars and in the future life on Mars can be possible.
In November 2011 a third Mars Rover named Curiosity was launched. He landed on the red planet in August 2012 and its key mission was to determine if Mars was indeed ever capable of supporting microbial life. Some of its key findings were for one the presence of sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon in a sedimentary rock. These elements are vital to support life and is proof that Mars could have supported a habitable environment. Second, the Curiosity rover found a tenfold peak in methane, which then decreased just as sharply. Interesting about this peak is that methane is an organic chemical that can have many possible sources, such as the interaction of water and rock, or: the presence of living organisms.