Spacecraft Help Us Explore Beyond Earth
For at least a decade a lot of space exploration was based in the race to the moon. The competition was between the United States and the Soviet Union which is now known as Russia. In 1957 the Soviet Union sent the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. A good definition for a satellite is an object that orbits a bigger object. The Soviet Union also sent the first person into space in 1961. It took United States a long time to join in but they finally accomplished by sending people into space. NASA, United States space program stands for, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA sent space members to find out if it was possible to land on the Moon’s surface. NASA found out that it was possible so they made a new program for traveling to the Moon called Apollo. When Apollo started their first mission, astronauts tested the spacecraft and flew to orbit around the Moon. On July 20, 1969 members from Apollo 11 were the first humans to walk on the surface of the Moon. NASA accomplished five more landings on the moon from 1969 till 1972. While United States was sending people to the moon the Soviet Union were sending spacecrafts without people inside them to get samples of the Moon’s surface. This race to space also helped scientists learn more about the Moon’s surface and interior. The scientists studied the surface and interior by the 380 kilograms or 840 lb of rock and soil which the astronauts brought back. The samples are still being studied today.
Soviet Union Flag which is now known as Russia
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 the Russian space agency decided to be partners with NASA and work together. The Russian and U.S. astronauts started their joint missions with Mir, Russia’s space station. A space station is a satellite where people can live and work for a long amount of time. The Mir missions were helping the countries to get ready for the International Space Station (ISS). The United States, Russia and 15 other nations are working together to build the ISS. When it is done, it will be as large as the size of two football fields. It is too big to launch into space so they will launch a few pieces at a time. They started building it in 1998. ISS crew members study how space affects our bodies when we live in space for a long amount of time.
ISS (International Space Station)
There are different types of spacecrafts not just for landing on a planets surface. There are Flybys, Orbiters, Landers, and Probes.
A Flyby passes planets and other objects in space. After a Flyby exits the Earth’s orbit, controllers on Earth guide the Flyby to where they want it to go. These missions may last as long as a decade. When it is moving really fast it can also collect information and images. When a Flyby passes a planet the planets gravity can make the Flyby move slower or faster. In Voyager 2 to make the Flyby go by Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune when there was only enough energy for it to go to Jupiter the planets gravity gave the Flyby more energy to go to the planets farther away.
Orbiters are used to study a planet for a long amount of time. When Orbiter comes closer to its target which is a planet the rocket engines will activate to slow down the spacecraft. Then when it reaches the planet it will orbit around. An Orbiter orbits a planet for several months or even years. Since it stays at a planet longer it can get more information about the planet. Orbiters can also keep track of something that happens in time, examples would be like temperatures changes or even volcanic activity. Orbiters make detailed maps of planets. Most Orbiters have cameras to take pictures of the planets surface. Orbiters might carry other instruments or devices. Some Orbiters are used to explore moons not planets. It is possible for an Orbiter to orbit a moon.
Landing Sequence of a Spacecraft
- The spacecraft starts moving slower through the planets atmosphere.
- A parachute opens and a Lander comes down. Air bags are puffed up shortly before a Lander lands.
- The Lander starts bouncing on the surface and then rolls until it comes to a stop.
- Air bags are coming off.
- A rover from the Lander starts to explore the planets surface.
Landers are used to land on a planets surface. Landers can get information about the planets features. It can give us clues about what happened in the past and what it was like. When a Lander reaches a surface, controllers on Earth guide it and collect information. Landers pictures are more detailed because there on the surface, not floating around the planet or orbiting it. For a Lander to get samples it has a mechanical arm. One of the best accomplishments by a Lander was the Mars Pathfinder. It landed on Mars on March in 1997. The pictures the rover took proved that water once flowed on the surface of Mars. They also sent another Lander after two years and it failed.
Probes are only considered to work for a short amount of time, not long. While a Probe is roaming around a planet’s atmosphere the Probe’s tools identify gases, pressure, and temperature. Probes are very important for exploring important and deep atmospheres such as the giant planet Jupiter.