Emerging Technologies

To infinity and beyond: the history of human space exploration

The International Space Station is seen with the docked space shuttle Endeavour in this photo provided by NASA and taken May 23, 2011. The photo was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking.

See every probe, lander and rover launched in the past 57 years Image: NASA

Rachel Hallett
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Space exploration has come a long way since Sputnik blasted into orbit back in 1957. From the Rosetta probe's final descent on comet 67P to NASA’s upcoming mission to the Sun, the furthest reaches of our solar system are no longer a cosmic mystery.

With around 100 missions to date, and more awaiting launch, a new map by PopChartLab shows us every space probe, lander and rover that has been launched over the past 57 years.

What is striking is how few probes head out into deep space, with most of them orbiting our own planet. Nevertheless, the many flight paths looping around our neighbouring planets create a visual testament to scientific progress.

 The chart of cosmic exploration
Image: PopChartLab

New frontiers

Technological advances are taking us to an exciting stage in space exploration. The launch of the LISA Pathfinder last year has allowed us to "listen" to the universe using Einstein's theory of relativity. Astronauts have even tasted the first-ever crop of lettuce grown in space. On Mars, salty evidence of flowing water has been discovered.

NASA is edging closer to sending either robots or humans to Mars in an advanced rocket and spacecraft. The organization states on its website: “NASA's Orion spacecraft will carry four astronauts to missions beyond the moon, launched from Florida aboard the Space Launch System (SLS), an advanced heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit.”

Image: Reuters

Because it's cool

And it’s not just NASA that aims to bring about a new dawn in space exploration. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, has big plans.

During a talk at the Code Conference in California, he outlined a vision for moving heavy industry into space, saying: “We will settle Mars. And we should, because it’s cool.”

Then there's Space X, the exploration company funded and founded by Elon Musk, which has tweeted its intention to send an unmanned spacecraft to Mars by 2018.

A new era of cosmic exploration is coming. Watch, as they say, this space.


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