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Just a hundred years ago, space exploration was possible only in films (then still black and white) and science fiction books. However, over the past sixty years, mankind has shown tremendous progress, mastering the earth's orbit, visiting the moon, sending research missions to Mars and other planets of the solar system, and studying deep space with the help of powerful telescopes. Nowadays, the presence of people for 6-7 months in zero gravity on the International Space Station no longer surprises anyone. Moreover, some private companies are seriously discussing such ambitious projects as building a space hotel, organizing tourist flights around the moon and colonizing the Red Planet. It is obvious that the further conquest of space is only a matter of time. But how did it start, what made all these incredible achievements possible? We invite you to take a short trip into the past and remember the ten most significant space missions of all time.
Ranking of the most important space missions in history
|An overview of the most important space missions in history||1||Sputnik-1||5.0|
|3||Cassini – Huygens||4.8|
|5||Voyager 1 and Voyager 2||4.6|
|6||International space station||4.5|
Officially, the world's first artificial Earth satellite bore the code name PS-1, which stands for “Simplest Sputnik-1”. It was launched in 1957 from the world's largest cosmodrome Baikonur, which at the time was called Research Proving Ground No. 5. The carrier that put the satellite into orbit was a converted R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile. Sputnik-1 remained on its trajectory around the globe for three months, of which it transmitted radio signals for 21 days, after which it burned up in the dense layers of the atmosphere. The inner structure of the spacecraft was extremely simple by modern standards – it contained a radio transmitter, batteries, a fan, a thermostat and several sensors. All this was enclosed in an aluminum alloy shell, equipped with four antennas. The satellite weighed about 83 kilograms, and its diameter was only 58 centimeters.
Thanks to the successful outcome of the first orbital mission, scientists were able to obtain important information about the density of the earth's atmosphere. The launch marked the beginning of the space age, sparking a decades-long race between the USSR and the United States in space exploration, leading to the establishment of NASA and a series of historic achievements on both sides. Ultimately, the rivalry grew into an international collaboration of scientists and astronauts from different countries.
The Hubble autonomous telescope was developed jointly by scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency. Being in low-Earth orbit allows it to capture the electromagnetic radiation of space objects in the infrared and other ranges, almost invisible from the Earth's surface, since most of such radiation is not transmitted by the atmosphere. The Hubble began operations in 1990, after being delivered to an altitude of 610 kilometers by the reusable transport shuttle Discovery. Initially, the launch was planned much earlier, but after the disaster of the Challenger shuttle in 1986, which resulted in the death of seven astronauts, the flights were temporarily suspended. The telescope got its name in honor of the outstanding American astronomer of the 20th century Edwin Hubble, who proved the existence of many other galaxies and discovered patterns in the rate of their distance from each other.
During the operation of the telescope, more than a million images of various celestial objects in near and deep space were obtained with its help. One of the most famous photographs taken by Hubble is the Hubble Deep Field. It was impossible to obtain such an image of distant galaxies from a terrestrial telescope, but without the influence of the atmosphere, the resolution increased almost 10 times. In addition, a number of important discoveries were made, such as elucidating the nature of quasars, studying the life cycles of various types of stars, and discovering another satellite of Neptune. But the main thing is that thanks to the observations of Hubble, astronomers were able to make a more accurate calculation of the age of the Universe, which, according to modern data, is about 13.7 billion years.
Cassini – Huygens
The project of an automatic interplanetary station, designed to study the planet Saturn and its satellites, was implemented jointly by the American and European space agencies. In addition to the Cassini orbital station, the complex included the Huygens lander. The name of the project comes from the names of the engineer and astronomer Giovani Cassini, who discovered the four moons of Saturn, and the physicist-astronomer Christian Huygens, who created a mathematical model of the rings of the planet Saturn. Immediately after its launch in 1997, Cassini-Huygens set several records: it became one of the most expensive international space projects, as well as the largest interplanetary vehicle by weight to successfully leave the earth's atmosphere. Seven years later, the station reached Saturn and from it the Huygens spacecraft successfully descended to Titan – this was the first ever landing in the Outer Solar System.
In the course of the study, scientists obtained about half a million photographs and a huge amount of important information. Cassini discovered a unique atmospheric phenomenon at the north pole of Saturn, which is a permanent storm formation in a hexagonal shape with a diameter of more than 215 thousand kilometers. Also, during the flight through the trails of Enceladus, he discovered chemical elements in the emissions of the satellite, which is possibly indirect evidence of the presence of organic substances under the surface. The Huygens probe recorded the presence of hydrocarbon reservoirs on Titan, this was the first case of detection of liquid outside the Earth. Another achievement of the project can be considered the verification and confirmation during the flight of the general theory of relativity.
During this mission, a man for the first time in history made a spacewalk from a ship. The launch of the manned vehicle from the Baikonur cosmodrome took place in 1965, with Alexei Leonov and Pavel Belyaev on board. While in earth orbit, cosmonaut Leonov left the spacecraft through a special multisectional transfer lock and stayed outside for more than 12 minutes. Its output was recorded by two television cameras transmitting a signal to the Earth's surface. Communication and oxygen access to the suit was provided by a halyard, there was also an emergency oxygen cylinder in case of unforeseen circumstances, and Belyaev's partner was ready to follow him to assist in returning to the ship. Before the actual flight into space, the exit procedure was thoroughly rehearsed in an airplane, creating for this a temporary state of zero gravity, achieved with a sharp descent.
Despite all the precautions and preparation, the mission did not go smoothly. During Leonov's exit into space, a dangerous situation occurred, which he had to solve on his own, and in a limited time. Trying to return to the airlock, he found that the spacesuit swollen in the vacuum would not allow him to do this. The only way out was to release the internal pressure, but the slightest error in the calculations could cause the nitrogen in the blood to boil, which leads to the destruction of the blood vessels. Fortunately, the astronaut managed to relieve the pressure in the suit and return on board without consequences. In addition, during the descent of the spacecraft to Earth, the automation failed, and for the first time in history, the astronauts had to land in manual mode.
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2
Two identical unmanned interplanetary stations were launched in 1977 by the Titan-Centaur launch vehicles. Their main mission was to explore Jupiter and Saturn, but the flight lasted much longer and further than the creators of the devices could have hoped. Two years after the launch, Voyager 1 reached Jupiter and transmitted a number of images, as well as a large amount of data, to Earth. Thanks to the information he collected, scientists were able to figure out the nature of the Great Red Spot, which is actually an atmospheric vortex. Also on Jupiter, the device detected the presence of thunderstorms and active volcanoes. After exploring Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 1 headed towards the limits of the solar system, while Voyager 2 flew towards Uranus and Neptune.
The second device captured the two most distant (except for the dwarf planet Pluto) planets of our system in 1986 and 1989, and it also detected storms on the surface of Neptune. In 2001, Voyager 1 flew to the heliopause, and now the device has completely gone beyond the solar system, it is located about 20 billion kilometers from Earth. This project is considered to be the longest and most unprecedented space mission. An interesting fact – both interplanetary probes carry on board a gold plate with a message written on it for extraterrestrial civilizations in the form of text, images and music.
International space station
The International Space Station is a manned multipurpose complex designed for scientific research. It is in earth orbit, at an altitude of about 350 kilometers and makes a complete revolution around the earth every hour and a half. The history of the ISS began in 1984, when work began on the project of an orbital station. In 1992, the United States and Russia entered into an agreement on cooperation in the field of space research, and six years later the Russian Proton-K launch vehicle launched the first element of the International Space Station, the Zarya block, into orbit. The permanent crew has been on the ISS since 2000. Over the entire existence of the station, it has acquired more and more new modules, the last of them, the experimental BEAM living module, was docked in 2016.
The ISS is the most expensive science project in human history. Its construction and maintenance costs amounted to $ 150 billion. At the same time, thanks to her, hundreds of scientific experiments became possible, which cannot be performed under terrestrial conditions. The station's crew is engaged in a variety of fields of activity, including astronomy, space biology, meteorology, space medicine, astrophysics, and more. The data obtained on the impact of space on the human body, which can become a determining factor in the organization of long-distance flights, are considered to be a particularly valuable achievement. In addition to its practical value, the ISS also has political significance, being a world famous symbol of cooperation between previously opposing states.
Although there is solid scientific evidence of the Big Bang, this event itself cannot be captured by any equipment, since only a few hundred thousand years later, the substance in the Universe has cooled down and spread enough to allow photon radiation to pass through. But the ensuing radiation of the microwave cosmic background can be registered. For this purpose, the scientists built the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe satellite, abbreviated as WMAP. At first it was called simply MAP, but later it was renamed in honor of David Wilkinson, one of the former scientific leaders of the project. The probe was delivered to orbit by the Delta-2 launch vehicle in 2001, and the first images were obtained two years later.
In the period from 2001 to 2009, the device received radio waves of various lengths and transmitted data, which served as the basis for creating a complete map of the CMB. As a result of the mission, the theory of the uniformity of the temperature of the Universe about 14 billion years ago was confirmed. The information received from the satellite also agrees with the earlier proposed by scientists model of the Universe, which consists of more than 70 percent of dark energy.
NASA's space mission to explore Mars started in 1996. After a seven-month flight, the Delta-2 rocket delivered the Mars Pathfinder to the Red Planet. Landing took place in July 1997. On board the stationary station was a light (weighing 10 kilograms) wheeled rover called “Sojourner” (which means “alien” in English). This rover became the first mobile research vehicle on Mars. It had six wheels that rotated independently of each other, which made it possible to overcome slopes at an angle of up to 45 degrees, and was equipped with solar panels. Data about the surrounding world came from three cameras and a spectrometer. The movement of “Sojourner” took place in the area of the Ares Valley.
The Mars Pathfinder station analyzed the atmosphere and climate, and the rover studied geological formations. During the mission, which lasted from July to the end of September 1997, about 17 thousand images were sent to Earth, as well as data from analyzes of the found rocks. The results confirmed the hypothesis of volcanic activity that took place thousands of years ago and the presence of rivers on the Red Planet in the past.
After the successful mission of the Soviet Union to send the first man into space, landing on the moon became one of the priorities for the United States in the next decade. And it was carried out in 1969, becoming the most famous and significant event in the history of NASA. The Saturn 5 rocket carrying the Apollo 11 spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral (then called Cape Kennedy) in 1969. The crew consisted of three people: Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Mike Collins. The process of takeoff and entry into the lunar orbit went smoothly, after which the Eagle lunar module separated from the Columbia command module and descended to the lunar surface. The landing was fraught with difficulties, as the planned landing site was too rocky, therefore landing took place six and a half kilometers further.
After descending in the Sea of Tranquility region, Neil Armstrong was the first to set foot on the surface of the Earth's satellite. A little later, Edwin Aldrin joined him. Being outside the module for about two and a half hours, the cosmonauts took pictures, conducted a series of experiments, placed scientific instruments and collected soil samples. They also installed a US flag and a plaque at the landing site. The total time spent on the Moon was 21 hours 36 minutes, then the cosmonauts docked the Eagle in orbit with the command module, where Mike Collins was waiting for them, and four days later successfully returned home, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
The beginning of the 1960s was marked by the space race between the two leading states: the USSR and the USA. One of the most important events that demonstrated to the world the possibility of manned space flights, and at the same time the scientific potential of the Soviet Union, was the launch of man into space. Yuri Gagarin and German Titov, who were in the detachment of future cosmonauts, were selected by a special commission as the best candidates, but in the end Gagarin got the advantage. The purpose of the flight was to study the effect of weightlessness on the mental and physical state of a person. The Vostok-1 spacecraft, launched by the Vostok 8K72K three-stage launch vehicle, consisted of two sections. The first was a control compartment with instruments and equipment, the second was a descent vehicle for landing.
The ship was launched on April 12, 1961 from the Baikonur cosmodrome. The flight was carried out in a fully automated mode, since no one then knew yet whether the pilot would be able to maintain his performance in zero gravity. However, if necessary, Gagarin could activate manual control using a special code. For 108 minutes of flight, the device made a circuit around the globe, flying over the territory of the USSR, South America, the Atlantic and Africa. During the landing approach, Gagarin observed the friction of the skin against the dense layers of the atmosphere, and, having concluded that the ship was on fire, briefly said goodbye to his colleagues in radio communications. Nevertheless, the spacecraft successfully survived further descent, and at a seven-kilometer altitude the astronaut ejected from the capsule. Upon completion of the mission, Gagarin became the most famous person on the planet and visited more than thirty countries at the invitation of governments.
Attention! This rating is subjective and does not constitute an advertisement and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.