Forgotten Space Missions
Since its establishment in 1958, NASA has sponsored over 200 space programs, some involving dozens of individual launches, like the Space Shuttle series of 135 missions that built the ISS and put the famous Hubble and other space telescopes in orbit to reveal new wonders of the Universe in stunning detail. A series of huge Saturn V rockets thundered aloft from Florida to place two men on the moon half a century ago and took ten more daring adventurers there in following missions. Satellite launch missions have given us critical weather and geography data and communications and GPS technology we’ve all come to rely on heavily in everyday life. Robotic explorations of all our star’s planets have yielded astonishing details about how our solar system formed and has evolved.
But there have been so many hundreds of missions that most have faded from the public consciousness despite their considerable revelations and contributions. Programs like the X-Planes, Pioneer, Mariner, Galileo, and Cassini-Huygens have passed into history as each has added priceless knowledge to our collective mind bank, each building more experience and breeding new ideas and providing valuable fallout science that has benefited humanity in myriad practical ways right here on Earth. Two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977, after performing flawless tours of the outer planets and sending back revealing images, have streaked out of the solar system into interstellar space, but are still sending back faint data streams as they speed toward alien stars.
Many missions, especially in recent years, have focused on Mars with a view to one day sending astronauts there. Perseverance and its tiny drone have been in the news lately with yet more astonishing data on the red planet. There’s a related forgotten mission that celebrated its 20th anniversary last week. Odyssey launched on April 7, 2001, and after a seven-month journey, it began orbiting Mars and sending back a wealth of data. It's still operational. It has created the most accurate map of the entire planet to date, photographing and measuring every feature and charting in detail all the existing surface water ice and ice deposits that lie not far beneath the surface. This will be critical to personed missions, because they'll need that water to survive and it means much less will have to be carried with them. It can produce breathing oxygen and be converted to rocket fuel and to rover propulsion fuel. It can nourish indoor gardens and serve as a solvent for all kinds of chemistry.
We’ve never stopped learning about the vast Universe we live in, and a portion of that knowledge will soon help send astronauts on the greatest adventure of all time.
The exploration of another world.
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