Explorer 1US First Satellite1958-02-011958-02-011970-03-31
Echo 1First Communication Satellite1960-08-121960-08-121968-05-24
Mariner 2Venus Flyby1962-08-271962-12-141963-01-03
Ranger 7Lunar Impact1964-07-281964-07-311964-07-31
Mariner 4Mars Flyby1964-11-281965-07-141967-12-21
Surveyor 1Lunar probe1966-05-301966-06-021967-01-07
Mariner 5Venus Flyby1967-06-141967-10-191967-11-?
Mariner 6
& 7
Mars Flyby1969-02-25
Mariner 9Mars Orbiter1971-05-301971-11-131972-10-27
Mariner 10Venus Flyby
3x Mercury Flyby
Pioneer 10Jupiter Flyby1972-03-031973-12-042003-01-23
Pioneer 11Jupiter Flyby
Saturn Flyby
Viking 1Mars Orbiter
& Lander
Viking 2Mars Orbiter
& Lander
Voyager 1Jupiter Flyby
Saturn Flyby
Voyager 2Jupiter Flyby
Saturn Flyby
Uranus Flyby
Neptune Flyby
Pioneer Venus 1
& 2
Venus Orbiter
& Multi-Probe
MagellanVenus Orbiter1989-05-041990-08-101994-10-12
GalileoJupiter Orbiter1989-10-181995-12-072003-09-21
HubbleSpace Telescope1990-05-25N/AN/A
UlyssesSun & Comets1990-10-06N/A2009-06-30
Mars Global
Mars orbiter1996-11-071997-09-112006-11-05
Mars PathfinderMars rover1996-12-031997-07-041998-03-10
Cassini-HuygensSaturn Orbiter
& Probe
Deep Space 1Technology Demonstration1998-10-24N/A2001-12-18
Lunar ProspectorLunar orbiter1998-01-071998-01-111999-07-31
StardustComet Flyby1999-02-072004-01-022006-01-15
Mars OdysseyMars Orbiter2001-05-072001-10-24N/A
MER Spirit &
Mars rovers2003-06-10
MessengerMercury Orbiter2004-08-032011-03-182015-04-30
Deep ImpactComet2005-01-122005-04-03N/A
Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterMars Orbiter2005-08-122006-03-10N/A
New HorizonsPluto Flyby2006-01-192015-07-14N/A
PhoenixMars Lander2007-08-042008-05-252008-11-10
DawnAstroidbelt Orbiter2007-09-272011-07-16N/A
Lunar Orbiter/
JunoJupiter Orbiter2011-08-05N/AN/A
Curiosity/MSLMars rover2011-11-262012-08-06N/A

Explorer 1
In an attempt to catch up with the Soviets after their successful Sputnik launch, the US Navy attempted to launch the Vanguard. This was an embarrassing failure as it was destroyed in a launch pad explosion in front of the world's media. To make matters worse, Sputnik weighed 184lb (83.6kg) while the US Vanguard was just 3lbs. It wasn't until this time when Von Braun was allowed to attempt his 14kg Explorer 1 Satellite atop a converted Redstone Ballistic Missile. This was a success and the US entered the space age. Explorer 1 was operational for 111 days (some 56,000 orbits) but remained in orbit until 31-03-1970.

Echo 1
The worlds first passive reflector communication satellite.

Mariner 2
America's first major interplanetary success came in the form of Mariner 2 (an adaptation on the Ranger series lunar probes) as it performed its Venus flyby, analysing the solar wind, cosmic dust, particle density and magnetic fields in space and providing evidence that beneath Venuses clouds that the planet was a hostile, dry and lifeless inferno.

7, 8 & 9

Still playing catch-up the US followed the Soviets Luna 2 moon impact and Luna 3 flyby with similar missions called 'Ranger'. Ranger 7 was the first to return images of the moon before impact. This was repeated for the next two Ranger flights.

Mariner 4
America's next major success came from Mariner 4's Mars flyby, analysing Martian gravity, the planet's size and path around the sun along with data on an ionosphere. It detected neither a magnetic field nor a radiation belt. Mariner 4 also returned the first images of the surface of Mars and beat the Soviets Mars 2 and 3 probes by weeks.

Surveyor 1-7
Lunar Orbiter 1-5

In 1966 after Luna 9's first softlanding and Luna 10's first lunar orbit the American's followed with the 'Lunar Orbiter' and 'Surveyor' missions. Surveyor 1 landing on the moon 30-May-1966 four months after the Soviet's Luna 9. Surveyors 3 (Apr-67), 5 (Sep-67), 6 (Nov-67) and 7 (Jan-68) provided soil analysis whilst Lunar Orbiters 1 - 5 conducted a photographic survey of the moon from Aug-66 to Aug-67.

Mariner 5
Following the success of Mariner 2, Mariner 5 passed much closer to Venus than its predecessor. Mariner 5 analysed Venuses ionosphere and planet temperature.

Mariner 6 & 7
Returning for a further two Mars flyby missions, NASA launched Mariners 6 and 7. These vessels passed much closer to the surface of Mars than Mariner 4 and returned more images and performed an infrared and ultraviolet analysis of the planet surface.

Mariner 9
The first Mars orbiter, Mariner 9, entered Martian orbital insertion in November 1971. It photographed the planets moons Deimos and Phobos on route to Martian orbit and once there, provided detailed images of the Martian surface including its mountains, canyons and possible evidence of seas.

Mariner 10
Mariner 10 provided the first look at the planet Mercury, including images of the planet surface, analysis of the atmosphere, magnetic field and the planet's core. Mariner 10 was the first image capable craft to flyby Venus and was the first craft to use the gravity from Venus for propulsion (now called the "interplanetary gravitational slingshot effect"). No further Mercury mission has since occurred, so most of the knowledge we have today on Mercury is thanks to this mission.

Pioneer 10
Pioneer 10 was the first interplanetary probe to pass through the asteroid belt beyond Mars and the first to flyby Jupiter. Radiation interference cause the imaging equipment to shut down on Pioneer 10's closest approach to the moon Io, so no pictures were taken.

Pioneer 10 passed Pluto (inside Neptune's orbit) on 25-April-1983 and Neptune's orbit on 13-June-1983 becoming the first man made craft to exit the solar system. Last contact from Pioneer 10 was on 23-January-2003.

Pioneer 11
Pioneer 11 passed closer to Jupiter than its sister ship and used Jupiter's gravity to propel it onward to Saturn where it analysed the planet's rings, atmosphere and ionosphere. After leaving the solar system the last contact with Pioneer 11 was November-1995.

Data from both Pioneers 10 and 11 increased mans knowledge of the Jovian system by analysing Jupiter's core and clouds, confirming that 'the eye of Jupiter' is a semi-permanent hurricane and discovered many new Jovian moons.

Viking 1 & 2
The Viking mission consisted of two orbiters and two landers. Altogether the mission returned a wealth of scientific data and mapped 97% of the surface of Mars. Data from the Viking landers (evolved from the earlier Surveyor Lunar landers) were relayed back to Earth via the orbiters (adaptations on the Mariner 9 technology). Because the round-trip radio communication to Earth took 38 minutes, landing was controlled by an onboard computer. Black and white images from the landers took 19 minutes to facsimile back to Earth.

Voyager 1
The objectives of both Voyager missions was to perform the grand tour of the solar system, flying by the large outer gas giants taking images and measuring the chemical composition of atmosphere.

Voyager 1 was launched after its sister ship, the later launch date resulting in a shorter trip due to the interplanetary orbits. Voyager 1 concentrated on the Jovian system with its many moons spending 98 days collecting data before moving on to Saturn.

Voyager 1's imaging equipment failed before its encounter with Saturn. After its encounter with Saturn Voyager 1 carried on out of the solar system, its speed had it overtake Pioneer 10 in 1998 and is the farthest man made object from Earth.

Voyager 2
Voyager 2 was the first space craft to visit the four outer planets with their major moons, the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 operated despite a disabled radio receiver and a partially working backup and issues with the imaging equipment on Voyager 1 also occurred but were overcome. The mission lasted some twelve years.

This multi-craft mission consisted of an orbiter (Pioneer Venus 1) and a multi-probe launcher (Pioneer Venus 2) for five different probes. Pioneer Venus 2 distributed its five probes across a wide area. One probe survived for 67 minutes on the surface of Venus returning data. Pioneer Venus 1 relayed the data collected from the probes back to Earth. Pioneer Venus 1's radar created a topographic map of detailing 90% of the surface of Venus and remained active for 14 years. It discovered volcanic activity and refined atmospheric data including temperature and chemical composition.

The Magellan Venus orbiter was the first such interplanetary craft launched from a space shuttle. Launched 4-May-1989 by shuttle mission STS-30, Magellan reached Venus' orbit on 10-August-1990. After completing an extensive radar map of the planets surface, the mission was terminated 12-October-1994 and the craft was deorbited into Venus.

Delayed from the initial planned launch after the loss of the Challenger on flight STS-51L the Galileo Jupiter mission was launched from shuttle mission STS-34 18-October-1989. It arrived at Jupiter on 7-December-1995 five months after launching a probe into the Jupiter atmosphere. Initially hampered by a crippled main antenna, a less powerful, slower antenna was used to transmit data back to Earth. The mission was terminated 21-September-2003 after 34 Jovian orbits taking eight years, by the craft being deorbited into Jupiter.

Initially planned for launch in 1986, like Galileo, the Hubble Space telescope was delayed after the loss of the space shuttle Challenger 28-January-1986. Finally launched on 25-April-1990 from shuttle mission STS-31, it has allowed NASA to see much further and clearer into the universe than ever before.

Launched 6-October-1990 from shuttle mission STS-41. This ESA designed craft is tasked to explore the solar winds and explore the Suns polar regions. It used Jupiter to create an elliptical orbit around the Sun and has encountered comets Hyakutake (May-1996), McNaught-Hartley (2004) and McNaught (2007) before mission end 30-June-2009.

Mars Global Surveyor
The Mars Global Surveyor achieved orbital insertion around Mars on 11-September-1997. The mission was to map the surface of Mars for 1 Martian year (about 2 Earth years) but the mission was extended while the craft was operational. In April-2005 it became the first spacecraft to photograph spacecraft in orbit around another planet, capturing images of the Mars Odyssey and Mars Express spacecraft.

Mars Pathfinder
Employing a new airbag landing system, the Mars Pathfinder mission featured the first Mars rover (Sojourner) that exceeded expectations by remaining active for 83 days and travelling 100 meters.

Launched 15-October-1997 the Cassini is the first space craft to orbit Saturn, entering orbit on 1-July-2004. Cassini carried the European Huygens probe which was launched 25-December-2004 and reached Titan 14-January-2005. On 10-September-2007, Cassini performed a flyby of the moon Iapetus and a very close flyby of Enceladus on 12-March-2008. Cassini has orbited Saturn over 100 times in the last 12 years.

Deep Space 1
The Deep Space 1 mission was designed to test new technologies including and artificial intelligence control system which was later used on the Phoenix Mars lander.

Lunar Prospector
Tasked with locating resources on the moon, lunar prospector spent 570 days in lunar orbit (7,060 orbits) before being crashed into the moon in an attempt to find water.

Launched 7-February-1999 with the objective to obtain samples from the tail of comet Wind-2. It encountered the comet Wind-2 on 02-January-2004 and later went on to have an encounter with an asteroid, returning photographs. The mission probe returned its samples on 15-January-2006 and is currently on route to Comet 9P/Tempel 1 to study the effects of the Depp Impact mission. Stardust is due to arrive on Comet 9P/Tempel 1 in 2011.

Mars Odyssey
Mars orbiter spent 3 years in orbit mapping the planet and conducting detailed analysis of its mineralogy, radioactivity and environmental conditions. It is also used as a relay for data being transmitted from the Phoenix lander and Mars rovers.

Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit & Opportunity
Spirit and Opportunity are two Mars rovers that have been exploring Mars since 2004. They employed the same airbag landing system used with the Mars Pathfinder mission. Spirit became stuck in late 2009, and contact was lost March 22, 2010. The mars rover Opportunity is still active.

In the first Mercury mission since Mariner-10 some 30 years earlier, Messenger performed a total of three fly-bys of Mercury on 14-January-2008, 3-July-2008 and 29-September-2009. Due to the Suns gravity the craft requires some extreme gravity assisted maneuvers to prevent it from being pulled into the Sun, so to obtain an orbital insertion a series of 6 gravity assited fly bys of various planets were required. Messenger's orbital insertion occurred on 18-March-2011 becoming the first Man made Mercury orbiter. It successfully completed its primary mission in 2012 and following two mission extensions, the spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury on April 30, 2015.

Deep Impact
Deep Impact mission comprised of a space probe and an impact probe and was designed to study the composition of a comet. On 3-July-2005 the space probe reached comet 9P/Tempel, launching its impact probe to study the comet's composition and density. The mission has been extended for the space probe to visit another comet for comparisons. Previous comet missions Giotto and Stardust were flyby missions.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Launched in 2005 the MRO was in orbit to witness the Phoenix lander making its descent. This was the first time a craft has photographed a landing on another planet. MRO has an array of instruments, cameras and communications equipment to compliment the other Mars projects currently in existence on the planet.

New Horizons
New Horizons was launched on 19-January-2006 to study Pluto, Charon and possibly a Kuiper belt object. It is the fastest spacecraft launched from Earth to date (although the gravitational slingshot effect has Voyager 1 travelling faster). On July 14, 2015, it achieved its closest approach at 12,500 km above the surface of Pluto and came as close as 28,800 km Plutos largest moon to Charon. It is expected to continue on to the Kuiper belt.

Launched in 27-September-2007 with the mission of studying two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres. Dawn entered Vesta orbit on July 16, 2011, and completed a 14-month survey mission before leaving for Ceres in late 2012. Dawn entered Ceres orbit on 6th March 2015, and is predicted to remain in orbit perpetually after the conclusion of its mission.

Landing in a Martian polar region, the Phoenix Mars lander, on 31-July-2008, confirmed the presence of water on Mars. It is possible the Phoenix didn't survive the harsh Martian winter near the poles and communications was not able to be restored to the lander after it was put in winter hibernation, thus the mission has officially ended.

Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) are two unmanned lunar orbiters launched from the same rocket. On 9-October-2009 LCROSS impacted to moon in an attempt to throw up debris in an attempt to find water. After analysis this was confirmed by NASA 13-November. LRO is currently making detailed 3D maps of the lunar surface.

The Juno Jupiter orbiter was launched 5th-August-2011. It is expected to reach Juptier around August 2016 where it will remain in orbit, conducting experiments for a year before plunging into Jupiters atmosphere.

Curiosity/Mars Science Lab
The Mars Science Lab (with the Curiosity rover) was launched 26th-November-2011. By far the largest and heaviest Mars rover to date, Curiosity landed with the aid of a sky crane on the 6th-August-2012.