10 Most Important Missions In NASA’s History

Voyager I And II

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Launched in late summer 1977 aboard a Titan-Centaur rocket, the Voyagerprobes were destined for a rendezvous with the four unexplored giant planets in the outer solar system: Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus. The probes explored these planets over the course of a decade.

Currently, Voyager I is in interstellar space and Voyager II is in the heliosheath. The heliosheath is the outer area of the heliosphere, a bubble around the planets created by the solar wind. At a distance of over 20 billion kilometers (12 billion mi) from Earth, Voyager I is the most distant man-made object in history.

Both probes were outfitted with a phonograph record that carries a message from Earth to any alien civilization that may intercept the spacecraft, as they will likely survive for billions of years traveling through interstellar space.The probes are still transmitting data all these years later. But they will likely soon cease to do so as they go farther and farther from Earth.

Curiosity

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Launched on an Atlas V rocket in late 2011, the Martian rover Curiosity carried some of the most advanced (and most expensive) scientific instruments and systems ever constructed.

The rover successfully landed in August 2012 with the help of an innovative landing system. Curiosity descended with a parachute. Just before touchdown, the parachute was released and the rover landed with the help of rockets.

The goal of the rover is to follow up on the Viking missions and determine if Mars ever had the proper conditions for microbial life to exist. Curiosity has found some evidence that Mars may have once harbored microscopic life, but the experiment is ongoing.

Apollo 8

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President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s was running out of time. With just over a year left until the turn of the decade, NASA was moving at a blistering pace.

Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth orbit and head for the Moon. If they missed, they would have kept floating off into space forever. If they got too close, they would have smashed into the Moon traveling at several kilometers per second.

The mission was launched on December 21, 1968, aboard the most powerful rocket ever constructed—the Saturn V. Apollo 8 successfully entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve 1968. Famously, the crew hosted a holiday TV broadcast in lunar orbit as the Earth was rising over the Moon. It was transmitted live to all continents on Earth.

After the 10th lunar orbit, Apollo 8 set its course for home and successfully landed in the Pacific Ocean on December 27.

Apollo 11

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Arguably the greatest feat of human technology in world history, the 1969 Moon landing by Apollo 11 is by far the best-known and most monumental NASA mission. The mission launched on July 16, 1969, with a crew consisting of Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong. The launch and lunar orbital insertion were executed without flaw and were witnessed by hundreds of millions of people on live TV.

The craft came in two parts: Columbia, the command module that would stay in orbit around the Moon and ferry the men back home to Earth, and Eagle, the lunar module that would land on the Moon. The descent to the Moon’s surface occurred on July 20.

With over 500 million people on Earth watching the event on TV, Armstrong was in charge of landing the Eagle on the lunar surface. The descent was tricky because the planned landing site was filled with large rocks. It was a dangerous spot for a touchdown.

Armstrong had just seconds of fuel to spare when he set the lunar module on the surface of the Moon about 6.4 kilometers (4 mi) away from the planned landing spot. When he turned off the engine and the craft settled into the lunar dust, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “The Eagle has landed.”

Over the course of several lunar excursions, the two men collected rocks, performed experiments, talked to the president, and famously planted and saluted the US flag. In total, they spent over 20 hours walking on the Moon.

Their craft returned successfully to Earth several days later, having laid the groundwork for five more lunar missions in the near future.

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