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Far Reaches of Space - A Look at the Most Successful Robotic Missions

Updated: Aug 3

Exploring the far reaches of space can be an exciting and thrilling endeavor, and some of the most successful space missions to do so have been the Voyagers 1 and 2, Pioneer 10 and 11, and New Horizons. All of these missions have been instrumental in providing us with important information about our solar system, and in the case of the Voyagers, beyond.


Each mission has provided us with invaluable data, stunning imagery and launched humanity’s curiosity to further explore the mysteries of the universe. From the first photos of our solar system’s outer planets from Voyager 1 and 2, to Pioneer 10 and 11’s mission to study the outer edge of our solar system, to New Horizons’ successful flyby of Pluto, these missions have shown us the wonders of what lies beyond our planet.


In this article, we will take a closer look at each of these missions and explore their groundbreaking achievements.


Voyager 1 and 2


The Voyager 1 and 2 missions were twin exploratory space missions that were launched in 1977 and tasked with exploring the outer solar system. The two spacecraft were the first probes to visit and study the giant planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The two probes were equipped with various instruments to conduct scientific experiments, such as a plasma spectrometer to record the levels of charged particles in the solar system’s environment.


They were also fitted with cameras and aimed to take pictures of the planets and their moons. The two spacecraft were also fitted with a “golden record” that was used to communicate facts about humanity, the Earth and what life is like here, in case extraterrestrial life came across it. The goal of the Voyager 1 and 2 missions was to explore the outer planets and edge of our solar system.


An artist's concept of NASA's Pioneer 11 spacecraft.

An artist's concept of NASA's Pioneer 11 spacecraft. (image Credit: NASA)


Pioneer 10 and 11


The Pioneer 10 and 11 missions were designed to explore the region of space past the orbit of Jupiter and out towards the edge of our solar system. The two probes were launched in 1972 and 1973 and were expected to last only a few years, but they both continued to operate long beyond their expected mission length. The probes made important discoveries about the magnetic fields of the planets, provided scientists with the first detailed images of the planets, and conducted a number of experiments to understand the environment in the solar system outside of our solar system.


The two spacecraft were fitted with a wide range of different instruments to conduct scientific experiments, such as a gamma ray spectrometer to study the amount of radiation in the outer solar system, a solar plasma analyzer to study the sun’s charged particles and a gravity experiment to measure the strength of the solar system’s gravitational fields. The Pioneer 10 and 11 missions were designed to explore the region of space past the orbit of Jupiter and out towards the edge of our solar system.


Artist impression of Voyager entering interstellar space.

Artist impression of Voyager entering interstellar space. (Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech)


New Horizons


The New Horizons mission launched in 2006 to conduct the first ever reconnaissance mission of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon, Charon. The small, unmanned spacecraft was fitted with instruments to study the geology and atmosphere of Pluto, as well as the Kuiper belt where it orbits. The craft conducted flybys of the dwarf planet in July 2015 and of its moon in July 2016, where it gathered valuable and detailed information about both worlds.


The New Horizons mission was designed to conduct the first ever reconnaissance mission of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon, Charon. The mission had many firsts, as it was the first to explore a Kuiper belt object (Pluto), the first to explore a planet beyond the orbit of Neptune, and the first to explore a dwarf planet.


Voyager 1 and 2's Legacy


The Voyager 1 and 2 missions were the first to explore the outer solar system and study the giant planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, two of which were not previously visited. The two spacecraft were the first to explore the “gaps” of our solar system - the region of space past the orbit of Neptune comprising the Kuiper Belt, the heliosphere and the Oort Cloud. The two probes also became the first to visit the “edge of the sun’s domain” and visit the heliopause.


Voyager missions provided scientists with many important discoveries, including discovering new and rare forms of space weather in the outer solar system and observing the red spot on Jupiter. The two missions were also the first to observe the rings of all four of the giant planets, the first to explore the moons of other planets and the first to discover volcanoes on an icy moon. Overall, the Voyager missions were the first to explore the outer reaches of our solar system, providing invaluable data and information about our neighboring planets.


Far Reaches of Space - A Look at the Most Successful Robotic Missions

Pioneer 10 and 11's Legacy


The Pioneer 10 and 11 missions were the first to explore the region of space past the orbit of Jupiter and out towards the edge of our solar system. The two probes were the first to visit the “gaps” of our solar system - the region of space comprising the Kuiper Belt, the heliosphere and the Oort Cloud.


The two spacecraft provided scientists with many important discoveries about the environment of the solar system beyond our solar system, including the amount of radiation in the area, the strength of the gravitational fields and the amount of charged particles from the sun. The two probes were also the first to explore the rings of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus, the first to explore the moons of other planets, and the first to discover volcanoes on an icy moon. The Pioneer 10 and 11 missions were the first to explore the region of space past the orbit of Jupiter and out towards the edge of our solar system.


New Horizons' Legacy


The New Horizons mission was the first reconnaissance mission to the Kuiper belt and the first to explore the dwarf planet Pluto, a Kuiper belt object (KBO). The New Horizons mission was also the first to explore a KBO, the first to explore a planet beyond the orbit of Neptune, and the first to explore a dwarf planet.


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The probe gathered valuable data and information about both worlds, including the first ever detailed images of Pluto and its moon, Charon. The New Horizons mission was also the first to explore the atmosphere of a KBO and the first to explore the geology of a KBO. The New Horizons mission was the first reconnaissance mission to the Kuiper belt and the first to explore the dwarf planet Pluto, a Kuiper belt object.

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