10 Most Important Missions In NASA’s History

Ever since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created over half a century ago, they’ve launched hundreds of missions into space. From probes that have touched the outer reaches of our solar system to manned capsules that pushed the limits of technology, they’ve done it all.

Some of the most important advances in science, technology, engineering, and math were accomplished as a direct result of the missions talked about below. Here are some of the coolest and most important missions ever launched by NASA.

WMAP Satellite

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Did you know that humanity has a baby picture of the early universe?

We can’t get any images from the moment of the big bang. For the first few hundred thousand years of the universe’s life, stuff was just too hot and close together for photons to get anywhere. You could only see a few light-years in any given direction before the vast hydrogen clouds that filled the universe made it impossible to see farther.

However, after about 380,000 years, things cooled down and spread out and the first light was able to escape. This light from the universe’s infancy falls to Earth from every direction in the sky. It shows us the universe at its earliest stages and is known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation.

Since its discovery, scientists have wanted to map out the CMB’s hot and cold spots to see if they matched the experts’ predictions. That data didn’t exist until a few decades ago. Even then, it wasn’t until NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) was launched that scientists had a good HD image of the radiation.

The results from the probe matched predictions and confirmed that the universe was almost completely uniform in temperature over 14 billion years ago. It’s amazing that we have this kind of information about something that existed so long ago.

The satellite was launched on June 30, 2001, at 3:46 PM EDT aboard the Delta II-7425-10 launch vehicle. In April 2002, WMAP completed its first observation of the CMB. In February 2003, the first high-resolution images of the CMB and papers analyzing the results were released.

WMAP research papers are among the most used and cited in the history of space science.

Viking I And II

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Before 1976, the United States had never successfully landed a probe on another planet. Parachutes and similar items often failed, and the million-dollar machines sent to the “Red Planet” tended to smash into the surface while traveling at thousands of miles an hour.

It’s hard enough to get something to orbit the Earth. It’s even more difficult to leave Earth orbit, get into orbit around another celestial body, and then successfully land on that planet. Nonetheless, this feat of engineering was accomplished by the Viking probes.

The twin vehicles were launched within a month of each other on Titan IIIE/Centaur rockets, and the probes came in an orbiter/lander pair. Part of the vehicle was to stay in orbit around Mars, and the other part was to land on the surface.

Based on what we observed from Earth, scientists thought that life shouldn’t be able to exist on Mars. However, we had never landed there, so scientists didn’t really know one way or the other. They were proven right when the Viking probes sent back the first images and experiment results to NASA. The probes found no evidence of little green men or any microbial life.

Friendship 7

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By early 1962, the United States had just over 30 minutes of experience in space and the clock counting down to the end of the decade was ticking away. The US had never sent a man into orbit, an absolutely critical part of getting men to the Moon and beating the Soviets. That was to change with the launch of Friendship 7, the third US Mercury mission.

Lieutenant Colonel John Glenn, a military test pilot, was chosen to fly the new Atlas rocket into orbit around Earth. The rocket took off on February 20, 1962, successfully entering Earth orbit for almost five hours. He safely landed about 1,300 kilometers (800 mi) south of Bermuda.

The mission’s goals of testing out the new rocket, learning how to orbit the Earth, and proving that man could perform in space were successful.

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