Space missions have captured our imaginations since the very beginning of space exploration. From the first giant leaps taken by pioneers like Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong to recent voyages to Mars and beyond, these missions are some of the most famous in history. Here are 10 of the most memorable:
Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the moon and return safely to Earth, which occurred on July 20, 1969. The crew of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were able to complete their lunar landing, but they were unable to wheel around in their rover due to a technical issue with its primary engine.
The Apollo 11 spacecraft consisted of three sections: the Command Module, Service Module, and Lunar Module; all three separated shortly before landing on the moon’s surface. While astronauts Neil Armstong and Buzz Aldrin completed their historic Moon walk outside their Lunar Module as part of this mission’s main objective (which was to test out how humans could function in space), Michael Collins remained aboard his Command Module in orbit around our planet until his fellow astronauts returned safely home at last.
Apollo 13 was a mission to the Moon that had to be aborted due to a problem with one of its oxygen tanks. The astronauts were able to return safely, and it is now considered one of NASA’s greatest successes. In 1994, Apollo 13 starred Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon as astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise respectively. The movie was directed by Ron Howard and written by William Broyles Jr., Al Reinert and Jim Lovell himself (who also went on record saying he thought it was “one of [his] best performances”).
Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1)
Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1)
The first flight of the Space Shuttle took place on April 12, 1981. The shuttle was a reusable spacecraft that could carry people and cargo into orbit. It was also the first winged spacecraft to ever reach space, and it used an automated approach to landing (the pilot did not manually control its descent).
This mission began with a launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida by one of four orbiters built for this purpose: Enterprise—a test vehicle which never flew into space; Columbia; Challenger; Discovery.
- The first manned space flight
- The first flight to orbit Earth
- The first human to orbit Earth (Yuri Gagarin)
- The first human to spend a day in space (Yuri Gagarin)
- The first human to spend a day in space and then return back to Earth (Yuri Gagarin).
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was a collaborative project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to build and launch this telescope. The HST was launched in 1990, and it has since been one of the most famous space missions ever. It’s named after Edwin P. Hubble, an American astronomer who discovered that our universe is expanding.
In 1993, the first servicing mission brought new instruments and other upgrades so that Hubble would be able to function for another five years beyond its original design life of two years. In 2009, a final servicing mission replaced all six gyroscopes with new ones that had improved stability over time; these gyros were expected to work for about another decade before needing replacement again.
This was a joint NASA and ESA mission, launched in 1997. It arrived at Saturn in 2004 and then sent the Huygens probe on its way to Titan. The spacecraft took thousands of images of Saturn’s rings and moons, in addition to studying their chemistry. The Huygens module landed on Titan itself, making it the first landing ever made on an outer solar system object other than Earth or Mars.
- Galileo – Launched in 1989, the spacecraft was a joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency. It consisted of an orbiter and probe that studied Jupiter in detail for 14 years.
- Mars Pathfinder – This mission was launched in 1996 to study Mars and its surface features. The lander carried a robotic rover called Sojourner, which was able to move around on its own and collect samples from the planet’s surface.
Viking 1 & 2
Viking 1 & 2, the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, were launched in 1975. Viking 1 was launched on 20 August, while Viking 2 was launched 9 September. Both landed on Mars on 20 July 1976.
The Magellan space probe was a NASA craft that mapped the surface of Venus from 1990 to 1994. The probe was named after Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer famous for being the first person to circumnavigate Earth.
Magellan was launched on May 4, 1989 and began its mission by flying past Venus at an altitude of about 2300 miles (370 kilometers). It completed 14 orbits around Venus before ceasing operations on October 12th 1994 due to lack of fuel. Four years later it returned to Earth as a cargo vehicle for another mission.
Chang’e 3 Lunar Probe
Chang’e 3 was the first lunar sample return mission, launched on 1 December 2013. The spacecraft landed on 14 December 2013 and deployed a robotic rover, which drove around the landing site and collected data for three months. The mission made China only the third country to successfully soft-land a spacecraft on the Moon after Russia (with Luna 9) and USA (with Surveyor 6).
The Chang’e 3 lander released its rover Yutu (Jade Rabbit) several hours after it touched down on Mare Imbrium at 8:11 p.m. Beijing time (12:11 Universal Time). After completing its initial tasks, including using its mast-mounted camera to photograph the horizon and surroundings from a distance of 70 metres above ground level, Yutu began driving across an ancient lava plain towards what looked like an ancient lava tube cave entrance nearby. As it approached this cave entrance it suddenly stopped working as if something had pulled it back or blocked its path with some kind of unexpected obstacle!
There have been many incredible space missions.
There have been many incredible space missions, and some of the most famous space missions are Apollo 11, Apollo 13, Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1), Vostok 1, Hubble Space Telescope, Cassini-Huygens, Galileo and Magellan.
Now that you’re familiar with the top 10 most famous space missions, hopefully you have a better understanding of how humans have explored the final frontier. In addition to these great accomplishments, there are many more amazing projects we will see in the future—including ones that involve sending people back to the Moon! There are plenty of exciting times ahead for space exploration enthusiasts like ourselves.