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The Milky Way GalaxySolar System OriginsSolar System Extremes -Activities about The Solar SystemThe EclipticToday's featured page: Marvelous Masks



Our subscribers' grade-level estimate for this page: 5th - 6th
Table of Contents Enchanted Learning
All About Astronomy
Site Index
Our Solar System Stars Glossary Printables, Worksheets, and Activities
The Sun The Planets The Moon Asteroids Kuiper Belt Comets Meteors Astronomers

Our Solar System
All About the Solar System Origins The Ecliptic Where is our Solar System? Exploring the Solar System Extremes Learning Activities

Exploring Our Solar System

From Earth, five other planets are visible using only your eyes: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The other planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) are visible with the use of a telescope.

Many spacecraft have been sent to explore the planets and moons, including Apollo missions, Cassini-Huygens, Mariner, Magellan, Venera, Viking, Voyager (1 and 2), Stardust, Ulysses, Solar Maximum mission, and others.

Apollo Missions

NASA's Apollo missions sent people to the moon for the first time. Apollo 11's LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) landed on the moon on July 20, 1969 with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (Michael Collins was in the orbiter). Apollo 12-17 continued lunar exploration.

Pioneer Missions 10/11

Pioneer 10/11 were early NASA missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Pioneer 10 was launched in 1972 and went to Jupiter. 29 years later, in 2001, signals were received from Pioneer 10 - it was over 7 billion miles from Earth heading towards the star Aldebaran (in the constellation Taurus).

Pioneer 11 launched in 1973, travelling to Jupiter, heading toward the constellation of Aquila. The last transmission from Pioneer 11 was received in 1995.

Viking Missions

NASA had two Viking missions, Viking 1 and Viking 2, ( both were launched 1975 and were equipped with an orbiter and a lander). They transmitted images of Mars and its moons back to Earth.

Voyager Missions

NASA launched the two Voyager missions in 1977 to explore the solar system. They transmitted images of the outer planets and their moons back to Earth.

Stardust Mission

NASA's Stardust Mission was designed to learn about comets. It will take a sample of comet particles and return them to Earth. The small spacecraft (about 770 pounds = 350 kg) was launched February 7, 1999 and will rendezvous with comet Wild 2 in January, 2004. It will return to Earth on January 15, 2006, and land in western Utah, USA.

Mariner
Mariner Mission Planet Explored Date of Launch
Mariner 1 None (attempted Venus flyby) 1962
Mariner 2 Venus 1962
Mariner 3 None (attempted Mars flyby) 1964
Mariner 4 Mars flyby November 28, 1964
Mariner 5 Venus flyby 1969
Mariner 6 Mars February 24, 1969
Mariner 7 Mars March 27, 1969
Mariner 8 None (attempted Mars orbiter) 1971
Mariner 9 Mars orbiter May 30, 1971
Mariner 10 Venus/Mercury flyby 1973

NASA's series of Mariner missions were designed to gather information from the planets Venus, Mercury, and Mars. They were sent to map these planets and take atmospheric measurements (like temperature, composition, pressure, and density).

Cassini-Huygens Mission

NASA's Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched from Earth on October 1997 to go on an 11-year mission to Saturn. The spacecraft was named after the main division in Saturn's rings, called the Cassini Division. Cassini sent back photos and scientific information from Venus (in 1998) and Jupiter (in 2000) - it used the planets' gravitational fields to boost the spacecraft towards Saturn. In 2004, Cassini will send a probe called Huygens (built by the European Space Agency) to the surface of Titan, (Saturn's biggest moon).



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