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Humankind’s never-ending curiosity has led to many discoveries and inventions that changed the world. It has also taken them to places most people can only dream of. This includes space, the vast vacuum beyond the Earth’s atmosphere that holds the entire universe and existence.
Humans long studied space from the comfort of observatories for centuries until they became ambitious enough to make plans to reach for the stars. With many successful space missions, humans were able to learn more about the universe and the objects within it.
Below are just some of the most important space missions ever conducted in history.
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The 1969 Moon landing mission was the greatest “accomplished space mission in the history of humankind,” according to Top Ten Science, an online resource portal. Over 500 million people around the globe witnessed the mission that was once merely a pipe dream, landing men on the Moon. Upon reaching the lunar space, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin collected rock and sand samples, performed several experiments, spoke with the US president live, and planted the US flag.
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The Soviet Union’s Vostok spacecraft carried a human to space for the first time in 1961. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in history to ever cross outer space in a move that put the Soviets ahead in the Space Race. It was among the most important space flights that opened the gateway for human space exploration.
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Launched from the USSR’s Baikonur Cosmodrome into the Earth’s atmosphere, Sputnik 1 was the first-ever man-made object launched in space. It sent the world into the Space Age and sparked the Space Race that would see the Soviet Union and the US one-upping each other to be the leader when it comes to space exploration. The 1957 mission provided knowledge about the Earth’s density and what makes a successful satellite.
|Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech via NASA JPL|
Voyager 1 is still standing strong until today, according to Popular Mechanics, even after over four decades since it was launched. The craft discovered volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon and new details about Saturn’s rings as part of its primary mission. Since then, it has gone beyond its exploration—from taking the photo of the entire solar system in 1990 to crossing into interstellar space in 2012.
|Photo by NASA/Roscosmos via Wikimedia Commons|
International Space Station Missions (ISS)
Countries bonded together to construct the ISS, which aims to provide scientists an experimental laboratory in zero gravity. After the first module was sent out in the 1990s, several missions for construction were carried before the first crew was able to fly out to the ISS in 2000. Top Ten Science says there is still ongoing developments in the ISS, with the US and Russia leading many countries in the progress.
|Photo via NASA|
For 20 years, the Cassini spacecraft and Huygens probe gathered data about Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s rings and moons before ending the mission in September 2017. The Cassini-Huygens was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. It ended when the spacecraft and probe were deliberately crashed into Saturn’s atmosphere and destroyed—a decision that Popular Mechanics said was made to “protect the biological composition of the surrounding moons.”
|Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via NASA JPL|
Curiosity is the “most sophisticated rover designed with cutting-edge technology” sent to Mars in 2011. Launched on an Atlas V rocket, the Martian rover has the most advanced and expensive scientific equipment installed to study the Red Planet’s surface. Its main mission is to find evidence about the early conditions on Mars.
|Photo by NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech via NASA JPL|
Kepler is a space telescope launched to “explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems.” The original run of Kepler ended in 2013 and its successor, the K2, followed its path after launching in 2014. Kepler was able to identify 1,284 new planets by May 2016—nine of which were considered habitable.