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chang'e  deep impact  galileo
gemini  genesis  hubble
kepler  kosmos  luna
magellan  mariner  mercury
messenger  mir  pioneer  rosetta
shenzou  skylab  soyuz  sputnik
stardust  titan  vega
venera  viking  voskhod
vostok  voyager  zond

Please also visit:
eight objects that define the soviet space race
one thing spacecraft have never achieved - until now
tour of the international space station


NAME: Cassini-Huygens
LAUNCH: October 15, 1997

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is a collaborative project undertaken by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. It was launched as a composite craft, comprising the Saturn orbiter, Cassini, and the Titan probe/lander, Huygens. After a 7 year trip, the spacecraft arrived safely at Saturn at the beginning of July 2004. On December 25, 2004, Huygens detached itself from Cassini and travelled to Saturn's largest moon, Titan. It arrived there on January 14, 2005, descended through Titan's atmosphere and successfully landed on the moon's surface. It is the first landing of a spacecraft in the Outer Solar System.

In the decade it has spent orbiting Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft has relayed invaluable information about the planet and its satellites. Among its discoveries are geysers in the southern hemisphere of Enceladus, the plumes of which eject water, carbon dioxide and other compounds into space. Cassini's mission at Saturn is ongoing, and the spacecraft is expected to be operational until at least 2017.

Cassini is named after the French/Italian astronomer, Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625-1712), who observed four of Saturn's moons and discovered the Cassini Division in the planet's rings.

Huygens is named after the Dutch astronomer, Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), who discovered Saturn's moon Titan in 1655 and was the first to postulate that Saturn's rings were composed of solid material.

Cassini website
Cassini begins epic final year at Saturn

Photo credit: NASA


NAME: Giotto
LAUNCH: July 2, 1985
FLY-BY OF COMET HALLEY: March 14, 1986
July 10, 1992
MISSION END: July 23, 1992

The European Union’s Giotto spacecraft (named after the Italian medieval painter Giotto di Bondone) was one of six missions specifically launched to study Comet Halley during its passage through the Solar System in 1986. The other spacecraft were Suisei and Sakigake from Japan; Vega 1 and 2 from the Soviet Union; and Ice from the United States. However, it was Giotto which made the closest approach to the comet (596km), enabling it to capture images of the comet’s nucleus for the first time ever. Although Giotto was slightly damaged by dust particles from Comet Halley, its mission was extended to include a fly-by of Comet Grigg-Skjellerup. This new mission was successfully achieved on July 10, 1992, with Giotto coming within 200km of the comet. Giotto was deactivated on July 23, 1992.

Giotto website

Luna 9

NAME: Luna 9
LAUNCH: January 31, 1966
MISSION: The Soviet Union's Luna missions began in 1959, and ended in 1976. The missions were designed to collect information about the Moon and its environment, not only for scientific purposes, but also for planning future exploration of the satellite. The ultimate objective was to send manned missions to the Moon, but that goal was not achieved.

On February 3, 1966, the USSR’s Luna 9 became the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the Moon, or any other planetary body other than Earth, and to transmit photographic data to Earth from the surface of another planet.

Luna 9 was launched into space by a Molniya-M type rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (now Kazakhstan).

Weighing 218lbs (or 99kg), Luna 9 used a landing bag to cushion itself against the impact of its landing speed of 14mph (or 22kph). Its descent to the lunar surface was the Soviet Union’s twelfth attempt to land a craft on the Moon. Functioning perfectly, the spacecraft bounced several times before finally coming to rest in the Oceanus Procellarum (‘Ocean of Storms’), west of craters Reiner and Marius.

Five minutes after Luna 9’s landing, the four ‘petals’ covering the top half of the craft opened exposing spring-loaded antennae and an array of surveying equipment. However, it was several hours later (only after the Sun had climbed to 7° elevation), that Luna 9 was able to begin transmitting photographic data to Earth.

In all Luna 9 made 7 radio transmissions, totaling 8 hours and five minutes, as well as three series of TV relays. From the data received, nine images were obtained, including five panoramic images of the lunar surface.

Apart from Luna 9’s successful transmission of data, its landing on the Moon dispelled the notion that spacecraft sent to the lunar surface would sink into a thick layer of dust, paving the way for manned missions to the Moon.

Synopsis of Luna missions history

Mars Orbiter Mission - Mangalyaan

NAME: Mangalyaan
LAUNCH: November 5, 2013
ARRIVAL: September 24, 2014
MISSION: Exploration of Mars' surface features, morphology and mineralogy, as well as to study the composition of the planet's atmosphere.

India's Mars Orbiter Mission, known informally as Mangalyaan ('Mars craft' in Hindi), is that country's first spacecraft sent to the Red Planet. India is now one of the only four nations to have sent scientific probes to Mars, the other three being the USA, Russia, and the European Union. Mangalyaan's mission will last 6 to 10 months. Its primary scientific objective is to study Mars' surface features. However, the spacecraft is equipped with a methane sensor which will be used to detect the amount of methane present in the Martian atmosphere. The presence of methane is a key indicator of life, and scientists wish to determine whether the origin of methane on Mars is ambiental, or due to past, or present, biological sources.

In terms of technology, Mangalyaan's mission to Mars will serve as a test and demonstration of India's capability for future interplanetary scientific exploration.

Mangalyaan website


NAME: Maven
LAUNCH: November 18, 2013
ARRIVAL: September 21, 2014
MISSION: To study Mars' atmosphere.

Maven stands for: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN. The spacecraft will orbit the Red Planet at a distance of 90 miles, or 150km, to study its tenuous atmosphere. The results of Maven's observations will help scientists to understand how Mars' climate has evolved over billions of years.

Maven website
Maven fact sheet
Related article


NAME: Messenger
LAUNCH: August 3, 2004
ARRIVAL: March 18, 2011
MISSION: To determine the chemical composition of Mercury's surface; to
study its geological history; to reveal the properties of its magnetic field; to determine the size and state of its core; and search for volatile compounds at its poles.
MISSION END: April 30, 2015

Messenger is an acronym for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.

Messenger was the first spacecraft to visit Mercury since Mariner 10 in 1975. From April 4, 2011, the probe relayed data to Earth. It completely mapped the planet, taking some 100,000 images. Messenger also elucidated the nature of the planet's magnetic field, and discovered water ice at Mercury's north pole, confirming observations made on Earth. On April 30, 2015, Messenger impacted the planet's surface after the spacecraft exhausted its supply of fuel.

Messenger website

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