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NASA Solar System Exploration

NASA Solar System Exploration

Human Spaceflight

During the Cold War, USA & Russia created intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of transporting satellites into orbit as well as rockets large enough to transport humans to space. Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs tested human spaceflight capabilities including prolonged periods in weightlessness and docking with orbiting vehicles; Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human ever to leave Earth aboard a spacecraft back in 1961.

Human spaceflight primarily seeks to explore. This could mean discovering locations on other planets that hold potential resources or studying its environment to determine its suitability for human settlement. Such observations can be more difficult and dangerous than robot missions; nonetheless, the benefits can still be substantial.

Human spaceflight serves several other objectives beyond exploration: conducting research and demonstrating technological advancements. Although these goals fall secondary to exploration, they have helped justify its costs and risks associated with human spaceflight. With technologies like reusable rockets, space shuttles, and the International Space Station’s development we have advanced humanity tremendously since their first human missions into space.

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Human spaceflight also serves a significant educational function by serving as an example for other nations and cultures to follow, which has been one of the key goals of post-Cold War logic governing American, Russian, and now Chinese space programs. Astronauts have become beloved figures within their home nations while serving as role models to their fellow countrymen; yet few would argue such achievements justify all of the risks involved with human spaceflight.

Space Probes

Space probes are spacecraft that explore celestial bodies or regions of space. Their missions may include exploring the Sun, its planets, distant galaxies or anything else they come across in space. Space probes usually feature sensors for monitoring their environment as well as objects it encounters – as well as communication systems which transmit data back to Earth – although some probes rely on solar arrays or radioisotope batteries for power.

Some probes are on one-way missions, heading directly towards their destinations without returning back to Earth afterwards. This approach may help achieve specific scientific goals like taking images of planets with hostile atmospheres or icy surfaces; other probes take a more leisurely approach by orbiting around each planet before landing for closer examination.

Since 1957 and the launch of Sputnik 1, humans have launched unmanned probes into space to gain greater knowledge of our Solar System and Cosmos. Scientists continue to discover new insights into Earth and other planets we know of – such as discovering that both Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s Saturn Moon Enceladus contain oceans below their frozen surfaces, while thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars have also been discovered.

One of the key components of a space probe are its measurement systems, which measure distances to objects as well as speed and direction of travel. Furthermore, navigation systems help guide it from its origin point to its final destination quickly by tracking its position on Earth while also calculating the velocity of its trajectory to ensure timely arrival at its target destination.


Astronomers utilize telescopes to study celestial objects. Large optical telescopes collect visible light while smaller telescopes can detect electromagnetic radiation at longer wavelengths such as radio waves, X-rays and gamma rays that is invisible to the naked eye requiring specialized telescopes that look distinct from traditional ones.

Early telescopes relied on both lenses and mirrors to gather and focus light onto distant objects for magnification, while modern amateur and professional telescopes often opt for mirrors instead of lenses due to being lighter and easier to shape into precise images. A telescope’s aperture (distance it can gather light) measures its power; larger apertures indicate greater magnification power.

Telescopes may be located both on Earth and in space. Telescopes situated on Earth must contend with Earth’s atmosphere, which blocks some light at infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths; their movement also distorts light waves. Space telescopes, on the other hand, can collect electromagnetic radiation without interference from atmospheric conditions.

Multiple telescopes can be combined into an observatory. Astronomers then share the data collected from all these different instruments for a comprehensive picture of our solar system and universe.

There are various kinds of telescopes, from fully automated desktop-sized models you can control using an app, to the largest mirror telescope ever. Many of the most sophisticated telescopes can be found at observatories located high on mountains where atmospheric interference is minimal; other powerful instruments may even detect water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane on planets and moons and detect how these gases change from day to night or season to season.


Satellites are machines that orbit other objects in space. Earth and the moon both possess natural satellites; however, when most people refer to “satellites,” they usually mean man-made machines designed for various tasks including communication, navigation (GPS), weather forecasting, scientific research or even spying.

Many satellites contain cameras which send back photos of Earth and solar system; others measure gases in the atmosphere or how much energy Earth absorbs and emits; still others take close-up photos of asteroids and comets, while still others look for evidence of water on Mars or investigate Saturn’s rings chemistry.

Today there are roughly 2,000 satellites orbiting our Earth; some as small as refrigerators while others span an entire football pitch. Of these spacecraft is the International Space Station which was completed over 10 years and can house six or seven astronauts at once.

Each satellite consists of four essential parts, such as its power system (which may be solar or nuclear), method to control its attitude, antenna to transmit and receive signals and payload machine that gathers information.

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All satellites transmit data back to centers on Earth, like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Signals transmitted via radio waves reach Deep Space Network (DSN) sites located throughout the globe where antennae receive them and then pass it along to NASA’s Space Flight Operations Facility where scientists analyze it before sharing with other scientists or using it in product development efforts by businesses.


NASA is well known for sending astronauts into space, flying satellites and probing into our solar system and beyond. Beyond its core activities, however, NASA also conducts research that helps humans and machines on Earth live better, tests new developments to enhance air travel as well as sharing its findings so companies can develop spinoff products from them.

NASA has long held a mission of planetary exploration within their overall mission. Two reports issued by the Planetary Exploration Committee of the NASA Advisory Council in 1986 and 1992 laid out clear goals for future exploration of Earth’s solar system and outer regions.

These reports advocated a conservative, steady program which could be expanded if additional resources became available. As computer technology improved during the 1990s, NASA initiated its “faster, better, cheaper” strategy on certain missions such as Mars Pathfinder and Dawn and Deep Impact missions to Ceres and Vesta asteroids; using off-the-shelf computers as well as reduced inspection requirements to cut costs prior to launch.

JPL-managed missions like Galileo and Cassini discovered in the 1990s that Jupiter’s Europa may harbor subsurface oceans that may provide habitats for life, leading to plans for the Europa Clipper mission.

Outer planets offer scientists an abundance of data about their internal structures and compositions. Early mission exploration by Pioneer series and Mariner series probes between 1962 and 1973 revealed many features on Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn that altered what had previously been thought about them; leading scientists to speculate that they developed from primitive bodies that later coalesced into more solid forms such as rocks, gaseous clouds or metallic layers.

Frequently Asked Questions

NASA is a government agency dedicated to air and space research. Their activities encompass space exploration, but also include Earth exploration. NASA scientists use satellites and other technology to study our planet, its processes, and response to natural or human-caused changes; their findings are then shared widely so as many people as possible can take advantage of them.

Since NASA was created over five decades ago, it has been at the forefront of many of humanity’s most significant scientific and technological achievements. NASA has led human footprints onto the Moon, explored many of our Solar System planets’ giant planets and probed our Sun to unravel some of its deepest mysteries – all helping humanity understand ourselves better while opening new possibilities for exploration of space. Its achievements have inspired people everywhere while deepening our knowledge about our home planet while opening up opportunities for further human space travel.

Since NASA was created in 1958, its pioneering scientific and technological achievements have had an immense impact on our world. Through human spaceflight, aeronautics and space science – which NASA dominates – its astronauts have walked on the Moon, visited all planets of our solar system, touched our Sun and solved some of Earth’s core mysteries. Their leadership also contributes immensely to America’s economic prosperity, national security and cultural identity.

NASA explores and innovates for humanity’s benefit in air and space through research efforts at 20 centers and facilities around the United States, covering topics including Earth climate research, sun/solar system exploration and human spaceflight.


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