The Sun and Planets
Technology and Tools that help us get data about space
Hubble telescope: The Hubble Space Telescope's launch in 1990 sped humanity to one of its greatest advances in that journey. Hubble is a telescope that orbits Earth. Its position above the atmosphere, which distorts and blocks the light that reaches our planet, gives it a view of the universe that typically far surpasses that of ground-based telescopes.
Hubble is one of NASA's most successful and long-lasting science missions. It has beamed hundreds of thousands of images back to Earth, shedding light on many of the great mysteries of astronomy. Its gaze has helped determine the age of the universe, the identity of quasars, and the existence of dark energy.
Mars Rover: Curiosity is a car-sized, six-wheeled robot destined for Gale Crater on Mars.
Its mission: to see if Mars ever could have supported small life forms called microbes...and if humans could survive there someday!
In addition to super-human senses that help us understand Mars as a habitat for life, Curiosity's parts are similar to what a human would need to explore Mars (body, brains, eyes, arm, legs, etc.).
Space Probes:Space probes are made to conduct science experiments. They do not have people on them. Space probes have helped scientists get information about our solar system. Most probes are not designed to return to Earth. Some have landed on other planets! Others have flown past the planets and taken pictures of them for scientists to see. There are even some space probes that go into orbit around other planets and study them for a long time. The information they gather is used to help us understand the weather and other changes which happen on planets other than the Earth. This information is important in helping to plan other space missions such as ones to Mars and to Saturn.
During the summer of 2003, NASA launched twin robotic rovers named Spirit andOpportunity. The rovers were launched approximately 3 weeks apart, but they had the same destination. Spirit and Opportunity were headed to Mars. The rovers landed in January of 2004 on different parts of the planet. They were sent to Mars to look for evidence of water. Each rover carried scientific instruments to help scientists explore the planet from Earth. The Earth-bound scientists tell the rovers where to go and what to examine. As the rovers move across the surface, they examine soil and rocks. This information is sent back to Earth. The rovers were built to last approximately 90 days. However, as of January 1, 2009 the rovers were still working! And they have found lots of evidence that water was once all over the surface of Mars!
The Cassini probe to Saturn was launched on October 15, 1997. It is the biggest and most expensive probe to ever visit another planet. The Cassini spacecraft went into orbit around Saturn in July 2004. It will study the planet, its ring system, and many of its moons for at least 4 years.
Two missions have been launched and are now making the long trips to their target solar system objects. The Messenger spacecraft was launched in 2004 and will arrive at Mercury in 2011. It will be only the second probe sent to that small, rocky planet. The New Horizons spacecraft was launched in 2006, and will arrive at Pluto in 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to visit that very distant dwarf planet.