31 groundbreaking NASA missions in photographs
NASA's Mars Exploration program on July 30 launched the Perseverance rover, which is tasked with collecting organic samples and searching for signs of life. Fastened to the rover is a helicopter, named Ingenuity, tasked with testing flight capabilities on the red planet. It will be the first aircraft to test controlled flight on another planet.
In honor of this milestone, Stacker has done extensive independent research to curate a gallery of Perseverance and 30 other groundbreaking NASA missions.
The universe is nearly 14 billion years old. Human existence makes up a tiny fraction of that time—if the history of Earth was 24 hours, humans came into the picture just before 11:59 p.m.—and yet much we've spent much of that time fascinated with space. For so long, we have posited theories and done our best to reach the most distant corners of the universe. Sixteenth-century Mesopotamians envisioned space as a cosmic ocean, while under the reign of the Roman Empire, Ptolemy theorized a geocentric universe. In 2015, new evidence emerged supporting the existence of water on Mars, and today, space tourism is a hot topic of conversation. People at all points in history have had ideas about what lies beyond the sky and have wanted both to understand and see it for themselves.
In the modern world, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is at the forefront of space exploration, making knowledge of the great unknown even more possible. Founded in 1958 and headquartered in Washington D.C., NASA quickly changed the course of both robotic and human spaceflight. Since its creation, the agency has put people on the moon, created a new window into viewing the universe, and discovered extrasolar planets. And as it turns out, the people doing all this incredible work are a little more down to Earth than the general public may believe. They might be geniuses, but they're also simply curious human beings.
The forthcoming images depict some of NASA's most profound achievements and capture these missions in a way that is at once visually profound and scientifically meaningful. Read on to learn about some of the most incredible moments and missions in NASA history.
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Way back in 1958, the launch of Explorer 1 marked a crucial turning point: this was the first time the United States succeeded in launching a satellite into space. The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik 1 in late 1957, and Explorer 1 showcased the fact that the United States was very much a contender in the space race. Explorer 1 transmitted signals to Earth for just under four months, and was finally destroyed years later, in 1970, when it reentered Earth's atmosphere.
Before NASA put anyone on the moon, or even sent anyone into space, it needed to create and test a spacecraft that was up to the task. Thus, the Saturn V was born. This rocket, the kind that eventually would carry Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon, was tested in stages throughout the 1960s and underwent its first full unmanned test flight in 1967, becoming the first-ever launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Testing an entire rocket at once via a launch—rather than testing various aspects incrementally—was a novel approach, and then-Space Center Director Dr. Kurt Debus commented afterward that it “went extremely well.”
By Oct. 11, 1968—when the Apollo 7 launched from Cape Kennedy in Florida—humans had already spent some time in space, the first among them being Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union. However, Apollo 7 orbited earth 163 times over the course of nearly 11 days, making it the longest trip thus far, and breaking additional barriers by being the first manned spaceship to broadcast live on national TV. The successful goal of this mission was to both test the ship's equipment and to ensure that the three crew members, and therefore future astronauts, could survive a trip this long.
Some may think Christmas with the in-laws is tough, but the crew of Apollo 8, who spent their 1968 Christmas in space, would likely beg to differ. The Apollo 8 mission was intended to test both the spacecraft and the crew in an orbit between the Earth and the moon (referred to as cislunar), and an orbit around the moon which had never before been done. The mission went well, proving the technology new to this spacecraft, such as a combined forward hatch, was in good shape and ready for further use and development.
While Apollo 8 successfully orbited the moon, it did not land, and additional testing was required to ensure that astronauts could visit the moon and return home safely. Enter the 1969 Apollo 9 mission, in which a crew tried out a piece of technology crucial to this goal: the lunar landing module. The mission was a success, and the crew could reattach the landing module in space, proving that a trip to the moon was not far off. As of March 20, 2019, all crew members of the Apollo 9 (James McDivitt, David Scott, and Rusty Schweickart) were still alive.
Often referred to as the “dress rehearsal” for the first lunar landing, the 1969 Apollo 10 mission essentially went through the motions of a moon landing, including detaching the lunar lander from the command module and putting it through the first portion of a descent, without actually touching down. The lunar lander and command module are respectively, and charmingly, referred to as Snoopy and Charlie Brown. Though everyone returned safely, the crew experienced a moment of panic when human error led the lunar module to spin wildly out of control (and the crew to shout a few choice expletives).
Ladies and gentlemen, the moment we've all been waiting for: on July 16, 1969, a Saturn V rocket carrying Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin launched from the Kennedy Space Center. Four days later, Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon. A new documentary about this event has shed light on some forgotten moments of the mission, such as Neil Armstrong taking the time, in a live TV broadcast during the crew's return to Earth, to pay homage to the technicians and engineers who built the 363-foot rocket that would make history. Eight years after President John F. Kennedy declared the lofty goal of putting a man on the moon, it was finally a reality.
A few short months after the Apollo 11 mission put the first two men on the moon, the Apollo 12 mission followed suit. On Nov. 19, 1969, Charles Conrad Jr. and Alan L. Bean became the third and fourth souls to set foot on the lunar surface, spending 32 hours there while third crew member Richard F. Gordon stayed on board the spacecraft. Mission goals included collecting data and samples from the lunar surface, setting up the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (which would be left there to gather additional information), and checking on Surveyor III, an unmanned spacecraft that had landed there two years earlier.
Houston, we have a problem: While this widely known phrase is not entirely accurate (crew member John Swigert actually said “OK, Houston, we've had a problem here”), it still summarizes what happened during the Apollo 13 mission. This mission was intended to be the third moon landing, but that goal had to be aborted when an oxygen tank exploded 56 hours into the flight. The three men on board (Swigert, Fred Haise, and Jim Lovell) were then forced to take shelter in the lunar module and quickly assemble an adapter that would make the air breathable, thus proving the possibility of a safe return to Earth even in the face of harrowing danger.
Part of the Apollo 13 objectives had been to land for the first time on a particular area of the moon known as Fra Mauro, a crater named for the 15th century Italian geographer. Since Apollo 13 never landed, Apollo 14—which launched in early 1971 and carried a three-person crew of Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell—took over the goal of the Fra Mauro landing. After takeoff, the spacecraft struggled and experienced five failed attempts at connecting the command ship with the docking ring of the landing craft, but ultimately succeeded and completed the mission.2018 All rights reserved.